Diversify: Overcoming Unconscious Biases that affect the Evaluation of Women and Nonwhite Leaders



In this talk, I will cover the business case for diversity as it pertains to maximizing global competitiveness. I will explain some of the biases that impede diversity initiatives and how one can best deal with those biases to effectively promote diversity in organizations. The business case for diversity is really simple. Organizations that draw their top talent from 100 percent of the population, rather than just 31 percent - the white men - have a stronger talent pool and have the potential to harness the benefits that are brought by incorporating differing perspectives. The most demographically balanced organizations are best positioned for sales growth as they will have the greatest insights in how to serve the next 5 billion customers in Africa, Asia and South America. If race and gender balance pays, then why are our organizations so unbalanced? It is difficult not to make immediate, unconscious, inferences about people on the basis of race and sex. In a 2016 AMJ article, Hekman, Johnson, Foo, and Yang found that female or minority leaders who scored higher on diversity valuing (respecting differences, valuing working with a diverse group of people, and feeling comfortable managing people from different racial or cultural backgrounds) were rated worse in terms of competence and performance whereas this was not true for white men (see also Johnson and Hekman, 2016 HBR). The challenge for the future of organizations will be to find ways to overcome these subtle yet powerful biases. I will cover strategies such as engaging men as diversity partners, using the business case for diversity, and interrupting unconscious biases though different cognitive mechanisms. For example, Johnson, Hekman, and Chan (2016, HBR) suggest that shifting the status quo by changing the composition of the finalist pool can minimize bias. Men and majority members are especially encouraged to engage. 

Dr. Stefanie K. Johnson is an assistant professor of management at the University of Colorado, Boulder's Leeds School of Business. She did her PhD at Rice University and is particularly interested in the effects of unconscious biases in the evaluation of women and minorities with the goal of finding ways to mitigate those biases. Stefanie has published 40 journal articles and book chapters in outlets such as Harvard Business Review, Academy of Management Journal, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Journal of Applied Psychology and has presented her work at over 50 meetings around the world including at the White House for a 2016 summit on diversity in corporate America on National Equal Pay Day and the 2016 Harvard Negotiation and Leadership Conference.