Dozens of attendees pulled up chairs at TU Library or watched digitally from home to go dive into the subject. We all want to believe that we are reasonable people and are not biased, but somewhere deep down is a little voice that says that that may just not be right.
It did not take long after the workshop on the first day of the Diversity & Inclusion Week of TU Delft started to find this out. Keukens-Khan, who advises organisations on their diversity policy, asked everyone to write down the names of five people – excluding family members – who they are closest to on a piece of paper. And a little later, she asked them to write down their chosen people’s characteristics such as age, gender, education level, nationality, sexual orientation etc.
Some attendees made a good impression. They had bosom buddies around the world and even confidantes of different educational levels or sexual orientations. But for most people, the start of the workshop was sobering.
Somewhat embarrassed, most people had to admit that their inner circle was very homogenous. “I really need to diversity my circle,” said one online attendee through the chat function. And someone in the room admitted being quite shocked at his answers.
‘Homogenous groups are often very harmonious’
“It is simply easier to get on with people who share similarities with you,” said Keukens-Khan, putting things into perspective. “Homogenous groups are often very harmonious. It is neither good nor bad.” The latter notion was put paid to a little later.
The list of types of bias in the world seemed endless. There is confirmation bias, gender bias, attribution bias, conformity bias to name just a few. Keukens-Khan would like to touch on all of them, but time does not allow. So she concentrates on just one: affinity bias, sometimes also called mini me bias. She believes that the mini me bias is one of the most important forms of bias. Affinity bias leads to us thinking more positively about people from the group in which we ourselves belong. “We have a somewhat tribal mindset,” she says.
It is hard for us. Keukens-Khan explained that our brain has two modus operandi. She shows a sheet showing psychologist and economist Daniel Kahneman’s book entitled Thinking Fast and Slow. Kahneman distinguishes between two systems in thinking. The first brain system responds quickly and takes all the instinctive and emotional decisions. The second system is slow and considers things rationally.
‘We mostly go through life on auto pilot’
“And just guess the percentage of decisions that we take using our rational brain?” asks Keukens-Khan. “Just 5%."
Many people do not want to admit it, but we mostly go through life on auto pilot. Our brain is constantly flooded with enormous flows of information. It is too much. Our brains need to simplify things, but in doing so, our brains are fooling us.
Step outside the comfort zone
People should step outside the comfort zone of their own tribe. Keukens-Khan believes that if we want to move forward with diversifying staff in the workplace, this is important. Awareness is the first step. Be aware that you are biased. An excellent point to stop and think about this is when you need to hire new people. “Imagine that a candidate meets the requirements but you have your doubts. It feels a little risky. You do not have a good click. Then you should ask yourself if you are not a little biased.”
Keukens-Khan also has a mantra: “If you catch yourself in the act of bias, pause, reflect and correct.”
At the end of the talk some members of the audience suggested a few tips. One scientist said that people from outside his own organisation were involved in selection procedures. Just outsource the whole selection procedure, said someone else. “Compile a job description and hand it over to a company specialised in diversifying the staff body.”