Is it time to exclude exclusion? A CEO’s top priority.

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Being excluded is dreadful. And humans are group living animals, so in evolutionary terms exclusion from the group ends in your disappearance from the gene pool. Our species has never lived in solitude and survived. Which strongly suggests that at a deep level, we need acceptance; and dread rejection. Then why is it such an issue for companies to create the conditions for people to feel included and accepted?

The consequences of lip service to this topic are not insignificant. Papa John’s CEO oven baked some bad PR when he was sacked for awful language. Goldman Sachs is in the middle of a lawsuit and stands accused of gross mistreatment of women. Team Sky recently had to back pedal and put one of its Tour de France riders on diversity training. Organisations, and by extension their leaders, should be seeing this topic as a business risk to hedge. Not dissimilar to insurance. The University of Michigan is paying its diversity chief $385,000 to steer the ship away from inclusion icebergs.

 

You’re not that logical

Linda is 31, single, outspoken and very bright. She is a Philosophy graduate who, as a student, was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination, social justice and nuclear disarmament. Linda’s occupation is most likely to be:

a) Linda is an insurance salesperson
b) Linda works in a book store and teaches yoga
c) Linda is a bank clerk
d) Linda is a bank clerk who is active in the feminist movement

Somewhere in the region of 85% of you thought it was (d). On probability alone, (c) is the correct answer. But the extra piece of information added to (d) made the story more coherent but less probable. Because humans have an unlimited ability to ignore our own ignorance, unconscious bias matters: a lot. As fair as you intend to be, 300,000 years of natural selection has determined certain hard wiring that conspires against total impartiality. (Thank you Daniel Kahneman for the above example).

 

Top tip #1 – When hiring, promoting or making any consequential decisions, identify someone whose role it is to look for unfairness, bias, or excluding behaviour in the system. It helps if their perspective is taken seriously as well.

Note: GB rowing have a similar (in principle) system where someone is given the role as “good pain in ass”. Meaning, it’s their job to ask awkward questions and be a helpful dissenter.

 

(Wo)man’s world

The language used in an advert, and medium by which it is published will attract specific demographics. For example, generally speaking, men are more likely to apply for roles that sound exciting regardless of their suitability in terms of qualifications, whereas women are more likely to read a job advert in full and only apply if they suit every required criteria. Writing inclusive job ads which take different groups into account will ensure the pool of applicants is as wide as possible.

 

Top tip #2 – Run regular content audits for your job advertisements. This can be done using a gender text decoder.

 

Urghh, appraisals…

Appraisals fill receivers and givers with equal terror. The biannual appraisal is a collision between the actress and audience’s perspectives. Your view of your own performance versus your managers. The issue with this antiquated mechanism is that it only gives people two opportunities per year to stress test how they are doing. When workers get mixed reviews from their audience, they are much more likely to reference manager biases, favouritism and lack of feedback. This leads to a feeling of exclusion and demotivation. Technology can help companies get into the habit of more regular feedback in order to prevent cries of nepotism and exclusion. At the more brutal end is the Dot Collector developed by Bridgewater Associates. Or, a more versatile solution is the 27Listen software developed by 27Partners.

 

Top tip #3 – Regular, informal conversations should be the norm. With employees getting regular feedback on their performance and career. This would promote the feeling of being included in one’s own career. Not just a spectator in it.

 

To crudely paraphrase Shami Chakrabarti, everyone is passionate about their own inclusion; it’s just other peoples they have a problem with. We are all simultaneously the victims and the perpetrators of exclusive group behaviour. Unless leaders deliberately interrupt exclusion, it won’t get excluded.

 

This article was published on CEO Today.