We know from science that leaders can solve for bias all day long, but still fail to create an inclusive culture.
Take a hypothetical manager, Bob. He’s tasked with figuring out who on his team gets a promotion. He takes every step he can to avoid making a biased decision: asking others, gathering data, checking his thinking. But when it comes time to announce the promotion, Bob simply announces it’s going to Frank; he doesn’t share all that work he did.
The problem here is that Bob mitigated his biases, but failed to explain his decision-making. Those who weren’t selected may wonder if Bob chose Frank because of his age, his gender, or his personal relationship to Bob. Thus, they could feel excluded even though Bob acted without bias.
Simply put, bias is what happens in our own brains, while feelings of inclusion or exclusion are what happens in other people’s brains. And yet, organizations reportedly spend billions on diversity training, often in the hopes their employees will start including more.
Bias vs. Inclusion
In these cases, leaders often assume that if they (and their employees) think with less bias, they’ll automatically start including others more. Instead of overlooking certain talent or making decisions based on faulty premises, they’ll start bringing more folks into the fold.
This is true in the best cases, but it’s not inevitable. And it’s still worth distinguishing between what makes bias and inclusion different, since each goal requires the development of a unique set of habits if leaders want to make use of them effectively.
We can think of biases as mental shortcuts our brains make when prompted with a choice. For example, a safety bias causes us to make decisions that avoid harm or loss. The upside is we may avoid negative outcomes. But we may also overcorrect and miss out on risky but lucrative ones.
Inclusion, on the other hand, is the sense we belong and can meaningfully contribute to the group. We experience inclusion as a result of other people’s behaviors: whether they ask for our input, select us for projects, and listen to what we have to say.
At NLI, we’ve developed separate solutions to help leaders work toward achieving both goals: mitigating unconscious bias and promoting inclusive cultures . Only when leaders focus on both can they feel truly confident that their teams are arriving at the most innovative decisions with the right people involved.