We know that embracing diversity in society matters. But it’s increasingly clear to us that it makes sense for business too. Several pieces of research support our belief.
A recent study revealed that companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have greater financial returns than the industry average.
The marketing industry is in a critical period of transformation; our ability to evolve depends on our collective commitment to celebrate individual differences. Research shows that despite our best intentions, individuals inadvertently allow their unconscious biases - or thoughts - to influence their actions and behaviours in ways that can stifle diversity. To create a truly inclusive and diverse workplace, we must be brave enough to acknowledge our biases and their impact.
At WAVEMAKER, we welcome differences in our culture, and embrace opportunities to thrive as individuals and collectively. We are devoted to developing and maintaining our multi-cultural hub where employees are valued and respected. We understand that diversity is critical in order for individuals to reach their potential, and for maximising their contribution to our business.
WAVEMAKER is part of WPP, the world’s largest communications services group. WPP introduced a non-discrimination policy in 1992. This commits WPP companies to select, develop and promote people based on merit and regardless of race, religion, national origin, colour, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age or disability.
Wavemaker's guide to unconscious bias
As the name suggests, unconscious bias is something that we are vastly unaware of. It is instinctive and triggered by the brain making fast judgments of people and situations. The biggest influencers are our upbringings and surroundings, and how we have been encouraged to process personal experiences. The unconscious bias as a system saves us time and effort processing information, allowing us to spend more time on other tasks.
For the most part, our brains do a fantastic job of sorting through and categorising observations we make in our lives. Categories can be based on very simple criteria such as age, weight, sexuality, accent, social status and job title. But with over 150 biases, there is literally a bias for everyone.
WHAT IS UNCONSCIOUS BIAS?
WHY IS UNCONSCIOUS BIAS SO PREVALENT?
The unconscious nature of the bias allows it to grow. False beliefs are learned in our formative years, when what we learn is accepted as a set of truths. We collect further evidence to validate these perceived ‘truths’, which shape how we view and respond to the world around us. There is little to police our thought processes or guide us to the right path when ignorant judgements are made. We only draw attention to the bias when they are revealed through our behaviour.
Another way of understanding biases is to look at some common stereotypes, which form a basis for assumptions.
Some common examples are:
Chinese people are good at math
Women are more emotionally receptive
Tall people are better leaders
Fat people are lazy
People with tattoos are rebellious
Gay men are gossips
Mothers are less reliable workers
HOW DOES IT DIFFER FROM DISCRIMINATION?
It is key to distinguish between bias and discrimination. Discrimination has a conscious, behavioural element. Bias on the other hand is concerned with misjudgment and doesn’t always involve the individual taking action. Bias is not an accusation, but is our perception of what we feel is different from our social norms. While we may not be conscious of biases, they can have damaging consequences on how we manage and the people we lead. Consequences include discrimination, narrow-mindedness, low morale, strained relationships and low productivity. Further effects can be observed in hiring, evaluation, salary setting processes and promotion.
THE RISKS OF ‘A CULTURAL FIT’
Research indicates that most of us unconsciously favour people who are similar to us. These similarities can be based on more overt characteristics such as race, gender, age, religion, physical characteristics. But they can also be based on more subtle characteristics such as background, place of residence, education, experience, or personality type. However, this fails to consider differences as an opportunity for growth, innovation and skill-sharing.
On the flip side, most of us have deep-seated resistance to anyone or anything that is ‘different’. And this is where the problem comes in – our implicit or hidden biases can influence our interactions with colleagues in subtle, yet damaging ways.
WAVEMAKER IS COMMITTED TO TACKLING UNCONSCIOUS BIAS AT WORK
Diversity is central to our mission of creating a more open and collaborative culture: it’s imperative for our work and for our industry. It is critical because our role is to communicate with and develop solutions that reach every group in society. This is only possible if our problem-solvers come from a range of perspectives, different genders, races, ages, sexual orientations, and characteristics. Having a diverse workforce is not only the right thing to do – it’s the smart thing to do for our business.
BRAVE YOUR BIAS: WAKE UP CALLS, A NECESSARY TACTIC?
No one is immune to other people’s biases. If left unchecked, these biases can prevent the development of the inclusive, collaborative relationships that are critical to creativity and innovation. Since most people consider themselves less biased than they are, the first step in addressing biases is to acknowledge them.
The Harvard Implicit Association Test demonstrates this objectively. The focus of the result is not on an individual’s ‘score’ but on encouraging individuals to look and reflect on the presence and breadth of their biases.
At WAVEMAKER, we have challenged everyone to take one or more versions of the test to help bring their unconscious biases to the surface. You can “Brave Your Biases” by clicking this link to take a version of the IAT:
There are innumerable benefits of diversity. Inclusion has a knock on effect on employee productivity, retention, team collaboration and commitment, all of which ultimately add value to the services we provide to our clients.
An inclusive team of people from different backgrounds can provide a greater variety of perspectives and solutions to problems. (Researchers found that groups of diverse problem solvers outperform groups with high ability).
A diverse workforce is crucial. It’s vital that a company’s employees reflect the world at large.
Organisations with diverse leadership perform better. A Forbes study identified workforce diversity and inclusion as key drivers of internal innovation and business growth.
Welcoming candidates from all races, genders, ages, backgrounds and experiences means we are hiring from a larger pool of people, so we are more likely to hire the best candidates.
CLIENTS WITH SHARED VALUES
At WAVEMAKER, we are proud to work with organisations with common values and a shared vision. Here is what a handful of our clients have to say about their own diversity efforts.
Since 1927, Marriott has valued diversity and inclusion. Embracing differences is part of the way we do business around the world, and essential to our success as a leading hospitality company with a growing global portfolio. Diversity and inclusion are closely tied to our core values and our strategic business goals, so they are embedded into every facet of our business.
The success of diversity at GE is a reflection of the integrity of our leadership and builds a strong foundation for future leaders to continue our tradition of inclusiveness. By bringing individuals, cultures and ideas together we create a stronger company and a better world.
Recognizing and valuing the many differences that make us who we are is vital to our culture. This diversity includes more than the obvious traits, like nationality, culture, race and gender.
Our diversity also encompasses many differences that are not so easily seen. These differences bring a depth and variety of ideas to our business that cannot come from any other source.
A place where everyone is accepted everywhere. That’s our vision, and our passion. We believe that when each of us are empowered to discover our true potential, what we can do together is limitless. We believe our employees’ diverse backgrounds, skills and experiences are at the heart of our success. Every employee brings a fresh perspective to the table.
BRAVE YOUR BIAS TIPS
The key to avoiding unconscious bias is to be aware of it and understand how subtly it can creep into our decision-making processes. Putting systems and structures in place to help standardize decision making is also critical to countering bias.
Here are some other steps we advise to tackle the issue:
Be brave enough to question your assumptions
Get into the habit of taking a moment to pause and ask yourself ‘why am I thinking this way?’ Be wary of your first impressions or gut reactions as those often are driven by unconscious biases.
Be brave enough to look for it
Be alert to the types of situations where you are particularly vulnerable to unconscious biases, such as when you are stressed, tired or multi-tasking, and make an effort to be more deliberate in your approach.
Be brave enough to own it
The intent to be unbiased isn’t enough to eliminate bias. Take advantage of opportunities to self-reflect and consider the subtle ways your biases may be influencing your actions, behaviours or decisions.
Be brave enough to focus on the individual
Make an effort to view others based on their personal characteristics rather than stereotypical ones. Avoid broad generalisations such as ‘all millennials want…’ or ‘working mothers never…’ or even “why can’t the planning team ever...’
Be brave enough to be uncomfortable
We all have a tendency to ‘like people like us’ (this is an ‘affinity bias’); it’s comfortable to surround yourself with people who are similar to you. Unconscious bias operates when there is a lack of information, so push yourself, and your team, to seek out opportunities to immerse yourselves in environments where you may be out of your comfort zone.
Be brave enough to understand differences
Our comfort with people ‘like us’ can also have a negative impact on those who are ‘different’ from us. Look for ways to increase contact among different people or groups, and actively look for complementary skill sets and perspectives. Learning more about others will help prevent your biases from filling in the gaps.
Be brave enough to embrace the positive
It’s often easy to find things to praise in people who are similar to us, but push yourself to regularly find the positive in people with different backgrounds, workstyles, personalities, etc. Actively addressing the positive will not only help that person, but is also likely to help you prevent unconscious and unintended slights.
Be brave enough to analyse your decisions
Push yourself to look for the evidence and the objective data to support your decisions (particularly decisions that directly impact another’s performance, growth and career path).
Be brave enough to change your perspective
Consider the situation from the perspective of different people or groups, and be open to exploring multiple viewpoints. Think about how you would feel if the situation were reversed, or how would you feel if someone said that about you or treated you in that manner?
Be brave enough to help someone
Volunteer to be a mentor, either through a formal programme or informally. More specifically, look to work with someone who is different than you in some way – you will both benefit from the difference in perspectives and experience.
Unconscious biases are hard-wired into our brains and despite our best conscious intentions they can be challenging to circumvent. Because they affect our behaviour in subtle and unintentional ways, most people often don’t have insight into their own biases. Being willing to Brave Your Biases and acknowledging them is critical, both good and bad.
Biases are ‘mental shortcuts’ to help us make sense of the millions of pieces of information we are faced with at any given moment. We take shortcuts when we’re tired, under stress or multi-tasking, so are more likely to invoke our biases.
People are predisposed to show more favour to people who are like them and to be biased against people who are different. In order to recruit and retain people who bring diversity of perspective, thinking and approach, it is critical to actively seek out ‘different’ and celebrate individuality.
At WAVEMAKER, we are deeply committed to building a workplace that reflects a broad range of experience, thought, geography, age, background, gender, sexual orientation, language, culture and many other characteristics. It’s a big task, one that will take time to achieve, but we are brave enough to keep trying. Are you?