The power of diversity and transparency in decision-making

How many decisions have you made today? Decisions like reading this Ethical Spotlight article, accepting an invitation to a meeting, or having that second cup of coffee this morning? Research shows that we make one decision as often as every 2.5 seconds! Because of the information overload, it is impossible to consciously evaluate every single decision we make. Instead, our brains use shortcuts and patterns based on our background and experiences to ease the decision-making.

We tend to believe that generally we are good decision-makers: objective, fair and logical. Is that really true? When meeting a job candidate, could we favour a candidate who has shared qualities with ourselves? If the candidate arrives late to the interview, maybe we assume that he/she lacks organisation skills, and throughout the interview, we focus on anything that backs up this assumption? This kind of prejudice in favour of or against a person or a group (usually in a way that is considered unfair) is known as the unconscious bias.

And how does this influence us? For instance, unconscious biases may lead people to act against their ethical values. Unethical behaviour often stems from actions that we don’t recognise as unethical (thus the name “unconscious”). We often fail to identify the ethical dimensions of our decisions, making us ethically blind. It is unintentional, since we might behave unethically without being aware of it – even when we consciously believe it is wrong. At worst, it may lead to:

  • Discrimination: where we might unconsciously treat people less favourably than others because of their, for example, gender, age, background or sexual orientation, simply because they are different from ourselves.
  • Bullying: where we might unconsciously behave unreasonably towards another person or group of people. For example, when a person does thorough work, there are complaints about being too slow. When the work is done efficiently, there is criticism for being sloppy.
  • Exclusion: where we might unconsciously make another person invisible by silencing or marginalising him/her. For example, sharing of information among an inner circle without telling everyone concerned, or start talking when it is someone else’s turn to speak, or interrupt bluntly.

Combatting ethical blindness is not an easy task, yet by introducing diversity and transparency into our decision-making, we can reduce its unwanted effects and create a more inclusive work environment that encourages diverse ideas and provides equal opportunities for everyone. Here are few practical suggestions on how to combat unconscious biases:

  • Promote diversity – dare to include, involve, and engage people who are different from ourselves, who have a different background and who might look things from completely different perspective.
  • Be inclusive – strive for an inclusive workplace where everyone is respected and can contribute fully with his or her skills, experiences and perspectives. One practical example is setting ground rules for meeting dynamics: everyone has the right to speak, no interruptions, be supportive of all opinions, acknowledge others’ ideas, and celebrate their success and failures.
  • Encourage “Speak Up”  – not only about potential misconducts, but anything from a safety observation to a disagreement with the team’s prevailing view. Everyone’s support is needed in creating a culture where people feel comfortable to raise a question or a concern, and to challenge their colleague’s or manager’s views. In addition, listening to different opinions is as important as speaking up!

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