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Understanding Inclusion Nudges

A fundamental strategy for any organization or community dealing with issues of implicit and unconscious bias is to simply recognize the fact that such bias exists in the first place. One of the most insidious features of unconscious bias is precisely the fact that people are often unaware of its presence and its impact on real-world decisions and outcomes.

But as important as it is to raise awareness of unconscious bias, some argue that awareness alone is not enough. “Knowing in the rational, conscious mind about bias and group dynamics, and having good intentions does not reduce the impact of the unconscious mind, nor does it make people act accordingly with this knowledge,” write Tina C. Nielsen and Lisa Kepinski. “This means that as change makers, our efforts are not going to work when trying to convince people to be more inclusive and make them aware of their unconscious biases, stereotypes, and need to fit in.”

Nielsen and Kepinski developed the “Inclusion Nudges” approach in 2013 and co-authored the book Inclusion Nudges Guidebook. The approach is based on the behavioral economics concept of “nudge theory,” which describes the potentially significant impacts of relatively minor influences on free decisions, as opposed to formal mandates or overt coercion.

“An Inclusion Nudge is designed based on insights from behavioural and social sciences to steer the unconscious mind to change behaviour in direction of inclusiveness by targeting the behavioural drivers, judgment and choice processes, and perceptions in the unconscious mind,” explain Nielsen and Kepinski.

Inclusion nudges, as defined by Nielsen and Kepinski, fall into three categories of actions:

Motivational actions: Creating motivations that encourage a desired outcome; in this case, inclusion. This could include publicly recognizing managers that have demonstrated positive inclusiveness in their teams recently.

Process actions: Designing processes and procedures to take inclusion into consideration. This could be as simple as have an explicit section of a job applicant evaluation to determine impact on company diversity, for example.

Framing actions: Frames describe how we see the world around us. Changing the discussion around diversity and inclusion from one that sees those efforts as an additional HR burden to one that sees them as a lucrative business strategy is a prime example.

Recognizing the existence of implicit and unconscious bias is a key starting point in tackling those challenging issues. But many industry experts, like Nielsen and Kepinski, argue that awareness alone is not enough. At the same time, heavy-handed policies and mandates that force diversity and inclusion efforts on a department or company can backfire. Strategies like inclusion nudges can work by influencing the free decisions of actors and helping them make decisions favoring diversity and inclusion without overt coercion.

How might you leverage inclusion nudges to help you build a more inclusive culture?

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Are you tired of workplace diversity training that does not link to business? Are you tired of tactics that don’t drive business results? InclusionINC has strategic consulting, leadership development and inclusion learning solutions and that link inclusion to employee engagement, productivity, innovation and retention, moving inclusion beyond tactics to a critical business strategy.


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