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Monday, 27th March 2017
 

SUB-CONSCIOUS BIAS : PROF. BINNA KANDOLA



Prof Binna Kandola OBE, partner at Pearn Kandola talks to Dr. Atul Shah of Diverse Ethics about his research and experience of diversity training and coaching

Much like the mermaid and the unicorn, the business case for diversity is a mythical creature. Many of the arguments that have been put up may be well meaning but are not necessarily well thought through, often lacking data and sometimes even logic. Diversity has stalled. To get it moving again, we believe we need clarity about why it is important and honesty about what is blocking its progress.

We apply psychological principles – to understand biases in people and organisational processes. We have got people to appreciate that there is diversity – and a recognition that people are part of the problem. Organisations need to transform their culture. Culture is determined by the people, and if behaviour changes, then culture changes.

There is an argument for diversity and it is quite simple and enduring - its about talent. It is about ensuring that talent is attracted, recruited, developed, retained and promoted. It is about ensuring that we make decisions based on merit to ensure that the best people are appointed and promoted. Whether we like it or not, we have preconceptions about the concepts of 'talent' and 'best' that lead us to discriminate unfairly, and discrimination not only blights individuals lives, it limits organisational effectiveness.

Training BME people about positive action and mentoring has limitations – we had a focus group in a government dept, where the BME professionals said that they do not want any additional training – "it is the other people who need to be trained in recognising our skills and giving us the opportunities," they said. It is therefore possible that decision makers and influencers are the problem, and they need to change for the organisation to embrace diversity positively.

The truth is we all have biases and, unless we are able to discuss this, we will continually be thwarted in our desire to achieve diversity and inclusion in our workplaces. Despite the fact that we are all biased, it is a subject that is very difficult to raise in an open blame-free way in organisations today. We are so conscious of the need to appear fair that we hide our prejudices, sometimes even from ourselves.

The good news is that we are capable of changing our attitudes and our biases. Some of the changes we can make are not that difficult to carry out. We do a lot of training for leaders and managers, and focus on unconscious bias, getting people to accept who they are and understand their biases. In one of our surveys, we found 60% of managers said that they have unconscious bias, but then a significant percentage of these said that it does not influence their decision making. It was also surprising to see that 40% did not think they were biased in any way. We can only remove prejudice if people acknowledge it.

Ethics and values are critical, and the behaviour of the leadership will influence the culture of the organisation. Organisations come to us, because they like our scientific approach to bias and prejudice. There is a genuine desire to progress the diversity conversation in their own organisations. There is a realisation among leaders that unless they start looking at themselves, there will be little progress. Top management of organisations are engaged and intrigued by the concepts we have developed. We have worked with BBC, PWC, Ernst & Young, BP.

Prof Binna Kandola's book, The value of difference:eliminating bias in organisations, is available here

Article added on 8th July 2010 at 3:09pm
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