Tag Archive: Cognitive Diversity

Overcoming Unconscious Bias

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Ensuring that your board is broadly diverse—in every sense of that word—can and most likely is impeded by unconscious biases. The NACD-hosted Diversity Symposium yesterday opened the 2015 NACD Global Board Leaders’ Summit in Washington, D.C., with presentations from Judith Williams, global head of diversity at Dropbox, and former manager of the global diversity and talent programs at Google, and Howard Ross, founder and chief learning officer of Cook Ross, a consultancy that works specifically on inclusion issues.

Judith Williams and Howard Ross on Overcoming Unconscious Bias

Google, which lives and dies by data, wanted to understand where bias might exist in key decision-making processes so started its unconscious bias program in 2013. Google researched whether training was effective in helping employees mitigate unconscious bias, Williams recounted. One example: For interview processes, Google developed a tool that would generate questions based on role-related knowledge, leadership, and “Google-y-ness.” Questions such as, “Describe a situation where you went above and beyond to help a colleague” was a better gauge of that quality than asking “Where did you go to school and what is the highest degree that you have?” The question generator also created a rubric for rating the questions so that the interviewer would know what a great response looked like. To level the playing field even further, all candidates were asked the same slate of questions.

The question directors should ask themselves, said Ross, is not “is there bias?” but rather, “What biases do we have that keep us from making choices counter to the values that we say we believe in?”

In a business context, bias comes into play when looking at a candidate’s qualifications for a particular job. Here, the trick becomes looking beyond traditional qualifications that maintain the status quo, venturing out to find new, unique qualities that a candidate can bring to a role. For example, seeking candidates with a college degree is a standard criterion; however, this would mean that talented innovators like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates would never be called in for an interview.

Organizationally there are two things that companies can do to overcome making these snap judgments.

  1. Education. From the top down, everyone in an organization needs to understand the myriad distinctions among people in the workplace and the mechanics of unconscious bias. By keying employees in to how people think results in more egalitarian behaviors across the organization.
  2. Systems and structures: Closely examine company processes to discover how they are susceptible to unconscious bias. For example, look at how are resumes collected and screened. Before they go to a hiring manager for review, could names or other markers be removed so as not to trigger biases? Also, look at where breakdowns in the company’s various systems can and do occur.

Williams also stressed that, when thinking about problem solving, consider who is asking the questions. For example, Google was designing mobile products for state-of-the-art smartphones; however, in developing parts of the world where mobile device use is high, those users are not working with high-end equipment. In other words, Google was missing a substantial portion of a potential consumer base. Now the company operates on the idea that its next billion users are not going to be exactly the same as its last billion users, and figuring out the characteristics of this evolving consumer base requires innovative and free flowing dialog. Business leaders in both the C-suite and the boardroom need to identify and overcome their unconscious biases because if they fail to bring a variety of perspectives to the table, no one will be asking the kinds of questions that will lead to the next big business opportunity.

Jesse Rhodes is the associate editor of NACD Directorship magazine.

Boardroom Diversity: There is Work to Be Done

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In all my years as a director, I have found that boards with the most gumption, versatility, and innovative force share one common attribute: diversity.

When we embrace diversity—of gender, race, culture, or perspective—we stretch our minds and transcend the limits of our own experience. These actions empower us to think, and to lead, “beyond borders.”

Diversity has become a global business imperative, and I am delighted by the work being done by my friends and esteemed colleagues at the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) to promote all types of diversity in the boardroom.

The 2015 Global Board Leaders’ Summit will open with NACD’s first-ever Diversity Symposium, which will take place on September 26 from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m. Discussion at the Symposium will focus on the following topics:

  • Unconscious Bias — Less than 15 percent of American men are over 6-feet tall, yet almost 60 percent of CEOs are taller than 6 feet. Unconscious biases like the one implied by this pair of statistics can significantly influence how we think and make decisions. Leaving such biases at the door can create space for new talent and innovative ideas.
  • Case Study: The Rooney Rule — The 2003 Rooney Rule requires NFL teams to interview minority candidates for head-coaching and other top-level positions, and over the past 12 years its implementation has dramatically increased diversity on NFL coaching and front-office staffs. How might this rule inspire new practices in the boardroom?
  • Meet the 21st-Century Board — In order to compete globally, companies will need to recruit a new breed of director. Who are the directors that will form this boardroom vanguard? What skills do they possess? And where can they be found?
  • The Diverse Board: Moving From Interest to Action — With findings in the Report of the NACD Blue Ribbon Commission on The Diverse Board as their starting point, seasoned directors and experts will discuss specific, actionable steps you can take to optimize the composition of your board.

The business world is not the same as it was 30, 10, or even 5 years ago. Today’s boardroom is a reflection of the changes that have occurred in the marketplace and in society at large. Much progress has been made in incorporating new perspectives and heterogeneous backgrounds into the sphere of corporate directorship, but we have much work yet to do.

Join me and NACD in going “beyond borders” and championing the ideals that will change the boardroom, our companies, and the global economy for the better.

Prepare to gain unexpected connections, insights, and inspiration.

2015 NACD Global Board Leaders’ Summit | Beyond Borders. Leadership Evolved.
September 26–29, Washington DC

For more information about the NACD Global Board Leaders’ Summit, visit www.NACDonline.org/Summit.