Tackling unconscious bias in the workplace creates more inclusive and successful businesses

Without diversity, life would be very boring. We would live in a very sterile and animatronic world where innovation suffers, progress stalls and businesses fail to change with the times. Diversity and inclusion are just as important in the workplace as they are in any other aspect of life. This has been know and understood throughout my time in HR, and, in many ways, remains the biggest challenge that most organisations face.

That, of course, means including people from different backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities. But it also goes much deeper than that. The most successful, forward-thinking and adaptable organisations consciously hire people who think or behave in diverse ways, and who are prepared to challenge traditional ways of thinking within that organisation.

The most successful, forward-thinking and adaptable organisations consciously hire people who think or behave in diverse ways

Building a working culture which embraces diversity requires an acute awareness of the unconscious biases that encourage everyone within an organisation – from the chief executive to graduates – to surround themselves with people who think and act like them.

The trick to stopping those biases ruling decision making within an organisation is to promote awareness

Most organisations will argue they do this already. They will say they are inclusive, but, often, they still let their unconscious bias rule their hiring decisions – meaning they revert to type and hire people similar to themselves. That is a harmful but perfectly understandable predilection. It can create very monolithic, staid cultures that are resistant to change. Everyone has inherent biases. The trick to stopping those biases ruling decision making within an organisation is to promote awareness. Once we become aware of how our own biases are affecting the decisions we make, then we are less governed by them and more likely to make a more informed choice.

At Diageo, we have understood this for a long time and have processes in place to tackle unconscious bias. We recently ran a week-long series of workshops to help employees understand their own biases so they are less likely to act on them. The response was overwhelmingly positive. Many of my colleagues, including senior leaders, have said their decision making has improved as a result. We’ve also taken the approach a step further and embedded it within our brands and their values. Take Smirnoff as an example. The brand’s motto is “we’re open”. That trope embodies the inclusive culture we’ve created, which drives our commercial performance and makes Diageo a fulfilling and happy place to work.


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