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Isn’t this reverse discrimination?

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  • 5 October
  • by Susan Jansen
  • Accountability

Every day, we work with leaders and their teams to create a more equal world.  It’s not always easy.  For every forward thinking leader, there are two cynical leaders who are quick to find reasons to maintain the status quo.  To help you have more compelling conversations, we are delivering a series #excuseofthemonth.  We will cover the most frequent excuses and provide short data points you can use to help create change.

#excuseofthemonth 1 = Isn’t this reverse discrimination?

If we had a dollar… You would be surprised by the number of highly educated, well intentioned men (and women) who believe this. We’ve unpacked the false assumptions and supporting data to help you overcome this objection.  

Thoughtful Question #1

What makes you think the current system is merit-based and fair?

Supporting facts: We know talent is equally distributed across genders, races and ethnicities. So if the system is fair, why do we see such serious underrepresentation of women and minorities in the top levels of leadership? The answer is simple, most workplaces are not meritocratic. A big driver of this is the subjective and biased way leaders decide who gets hired, who is performing, who gets invested in and who gets promoted.

You could also point out that research shows the more meritocratic an organisation claims to be, the less meritocratic they actually are. Counterintuitive, but true. Read about it here

Thoughtful Question #2

What are you doing to make sure stereotyping and bias don’t reduce the quality of your people decisions?

Supporting Facts: Science tells us all of our brains are biased and it’s driving poor decisions. Examples include:

  • Gender stereotypes “Men make good leaders and women make good care givers”. Challenges arise when women break this stereotype and move into leadership. The performance bar is set higher, there is a need to prove themselves again (and again), mistakes are amplified and remembered for longer. There is a tightrope to navigate between competence, likability and a genuine lack of support from other women
  • Affinity bias “I like you because you are like me”. When the vast majority of people hiring are white men, you can see how this perpetuates the current imbalance
  • Status Quo bias “I’m going to keep hiring the same type of person because I know what works”. This leads to valuing years experience and technical skills over what’s really required to be a good leader

A compelling proof point comes from research in Germany.  Three identical CVs were sent out to over 1500 jobs.  The only difference was the name and image of the applicant.  The difference in callback % shows the current system is not as fair as many would like to think it is.

Source: Institute of the Study of Labor

A similar experiment was conducted at Yale University.  1000 faculty members from across the US were asked to provide feedback on an application for a laboratory manager position.   Half the reviewers received an application from “Jennifer”, while the other half reviewed an application from “John”.  The applications and CVs were identical aside from the name.  The results below are striking with “Jennifer” being rated as less competent and less hireable.  The faculty members were also less likely to want to mentor Jennifer and would offer her $4,000 less in salary.

Source: AAUW

Unless people have effective ways to reduce bias, it negatively impacts people decisions.

Thoughtful Question #3

(useful when the answer to thoughtful question #2 was, “Well, we all do unconscious bias/inclusive leader training.”)

Did you know that even when we know of our bias (and we all have them) our behaviour doesn’t change?

Scary fact, awareness of our own bias often makes it worse. So we can’t solve the issue by showing up and attending unconscious bias training. The solution lies in initiatives, usually based in behavioural science, that design the bias out of decisions systematically.

Bringing it Home – Conclusion

The focus on increasing the diversity of leaders in Australia is not about discriminating against white men. In fact, it’s about reversing the hidden discrimination that women and minorities face into every day. When implemented effectively, these initiatives ensure the right person gets the job and the workplace enjoys all of the benefits that diversity and inclusion brings.

(And, if you are on a roll)

Ultimately, it will lead to a more equal, fair and prosperous world. Who doesn’t want that?

We hope this helps you have some great conversations in your workplace.

Watch out for Decembers’s #excuseofthemonth  “We hired a woman and she….FAILED!” or have it delivered directly to your inbox by signing up here  (scroll to the bottom).

 

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