Dr. Gillian Shapiro: Minimizing Bias and Maximizing Inclusion


Dr. Gillian Shapiro regularly conducts and is asked to speak on her leading edge research on Inclusive Leadership. She led pan-European action research programs across a number of sectors on employee diversity and innovation. Her Doctorate focused on the career development of women into senior leadership roles. Shapiro believes that unconscious bias can affect every area of our life and that we have a tendency to favour people who look like us, think like us and come from backgrounds similar to ours.

What is Unconscious Bias?

Everyone likes to think that they are open-minded and objective, but research show that values and experiences we gain from our culture, family and education, as well as the media, heavily influence how we view and evaluate others and ourselves. Research has shown that, despite our best intentions, unconscious bias can get in the way of building a more diverse and inclusive workplace.

Minimizing Bias and Maximizing Inclusion

Diversity is all around us and we need to learn how to become conscious of potential bias, minimize any negative impact and, drawing on simple actions, become more inclusive in our everyday management and leadership roles. There is plenty of evidence to show that a diverse and inclusive workplace leads to more profitable and innovative companies, but many organizations still struggle to reach the level of diversity and inclusion they seek.

Diversity Bias

According to Gillian, there are around 150 types of bias, but being aware of three of them is particularly important in the workplace.  Affinity bias is  the tendency to have emotional attachment to your own ideas, vocabulary and ways of doing things and to devalue those of others.  The Halo effect is the tendency for us to rate the abilities of people we like more highly. Thirdly, projection bias is the tendency to think others have the same attitudes, values and beliefs as oneself. All of these biases can impact women and men working effectively together as they can create negative outcomes and reduce diversity of perspective. Bias can be costly in businesses, because it can cause us to make decisions that are not objective and in miss opportunities.

Patterns, Assumptions and Interpretations

Yale University researchers asked 127 scientists to review a job application of identically qualified male and female students and found that the faculty members – both men and women – consistently scored a male candidate higher on a number of criteria such as competency and were more likely to hire the male. Nobel Prize winning economist, Daniel Kahneman explains why in his book “Thinking Fast and Slow”.  Kahneman explains that we have two predominant modes of thinking – what he calls System 1, or fast thinking and System 2, or slow thinking. Our System 1 thinking is intuitive and what we draw on most of the time. It’s fast and efficient but, in tending to ignore ambiguity and suppress doubt, it exposes us to bias. Kahneman says that our System 2 or slower thinking brain can counterbalance these flaws. System 2 thinking interrogates evidence and picks up on stereotypes and assumptions being made.  However, it is also slower and much more effortful and it’s for this reason that we tend to rely on our fast System 1 thinking.  We need to consciously bring our System 2 thinking into play to counteract the unconscious bias of our System 1 thinking.

Gillian’s Advice on Minimizing Bias in the Workplace

  • Introduce mandatory unconscious bias awareness for everyone making recruitment decisions
  • Take action to raise awareness of your own biases (e.g. by taking the Harvard Implicit Association Test) and be alert to the biases of others working with you e.g. in making promotion decisions
  • Ask open questions of women in your team about their ambition for next steps to avoid making any assumptions
  • Make sure your high-potential women all have mentors, coaches or sponsors
  • Make sure women are in your network of ‘go to’ people
  • Use language and images on websites, social media and advertising that appeal to women and men
  • Ensure all recruitment panels include visible gender diversity
  • Require shortlisted candidates to include at least one female candidate or explain why not

More resources on this topic:

Addressing Unconscious Bias Video by McKinsey & Company: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFW2cfzevio

Harvard Implicit Association Tests: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html

GS Photo 2011 (3)Dr. Gillian Shapiro is an expert on diversity, inclusion and inclusive leadership. Over the last twenty years, she has helped many private and public sector organizations across Europe and the world understand what diversity really means to their organizations and derive value from putting inclusion at the heart of everything they do. Gillian co-runs the Inclusive Leadership Network with over 100 member organizations from across the private and public sectors. She is an associate consultant to WISE, a campaign to promote women in science, technology and engineering, she has judged several diversity awards and is the diversity and inclusion advisor to the BBC Trust. Gillian has a Bachelor degree in Business Management. Her PhD focused on the career development of women into senior leadership roles. Her recent clients include BAE Systems, BAM, Citi, Fujitsu, Herbert Smith Freehills LLP, HS2, Virgin and Worldpay.

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