Unconscious Bias: Going beyond just being invited to the dance

At Ericsson, we believe that diversity has and will continue to have a positive impact on all aspects of our business. While we still have work to do, our company strategy talks about how our culture is one of our biggest strengths, together with our global presence and our innovative mindset.

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Nevertheless, diversity is nothing without inclusion. As one of my colleagues said; “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is actually being asked to dance. And no one goes to a party to stand in the corner and feel alone, they go to interact, participate and dance!”

One of the bigger obstacles for inclusion is unconscious bias. If you are human, you will likely have unconscious bias. But what is unconscious bias and how does it affect us?

Every day we make countless decisions without realizing it. Timothy Wilson, professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin, articulates that this happens as we are all faced with 11 million pieces of information at any given moment. However, our brain can only consciously process 40 of those bits. So, the brain creates shortcuts and uses past knowledge to make assumptions. Researchers call this “unconscious bias”.

Groundbreaking research, driven by advances in technology, has revealed the surprising ways in which unconscious bias unknowingly produces inequities everywhere around us. It play a large role in why true meritocracy, where hard work and the best ideas are rewarded, seems to be so hard to achieve.

Bias is at its core a survival instinct. We evolved of millions of years to have the brains we have today. But we should ask ourselves, how useful is it in the modern world, especially when making decision about who to hire, who to invite to join your project or what product/tools one should invest in.

How do we overcome unconscious bias? Can we legislate against bias?

Despite years of diversity trainings and anti-discrimination policies, statistics show we have not moved the needle. The World Economic Forum reports that the gender gap is, in fact widening. McKinsey’s reports in their 2017 ‘Women in the Workplace’ study, that women represent 18% of all C-suite roles. That number compares to 12% for men of colour and only 3% for women of colour.

Instead should we focus on interrupting unconscious bias by design?

In their popular book Nudge – Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness (2008), Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein suggested that if a particular unfortunate behavioral or decision making pattern is the result of biases, this pattern may be “nudged” toward a better option by integrating insights about the very same kind of biases, into the choice architecture surrounding the behavior, – as a way that promotes a more preferred behavior rather than obstruct it.

What if we all could come up with our own ‘nudges’? At Ericsson, we are! During this Global Diversity Awareness Month, we are asking our employees to come up with their own ideas. We have provided some examples that range from reaching out to someone new for a coffee, to going out of your way to discover something new every day.

What if we didn’t stop there? If actions speak louder than words, what nudge could you come up with to do something for inclusion? What impact will you make today?

Remember, behavior is contagious. Make your pledge for all-inclusive

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