Unconscionable bias

It is key to remember that the diversity discussion is not just around gender balance but looking at other diversities such as ethnicity, disability or sexuality, writes Cathy Parker.

I recently had an interesting discussion after reading an article post on LinkedIn about unconscious bias around the board tables of New Zealand corporates which, in many cases, don’t even notice the lack of female representation. 

Rob Campbell commented that it was more unconscionable bias than unconscious, and he has a point. My view, which I responded with, is that I feel it is more willful blindness – nothing to see here! 

I certainly feel a lot of it stems from the thought process – which is part of unconscious bias that – “I am the right person to be at this board table – therefore people that have the same experience, think like me and look like me must also be the right people to be here”. This results in a very homogeneous board and no diversity of voices around the table. I would add that the thought process probably goes further in that introducing people that are “not like me” threatens people because it calls into question in their mind whether they the right person to be there in the first place.

People complain that setting quotas or targets for diverse directors gives female directors a preference – but haven’t male directors had this previously with the majority of male directors filling board tables with their peers.

It is also key to remember that the diversity discussion is not just around gender balance but looking at other diversities such as ethnicity, disability or sexuality.

All of these diversities help directors bring the expertise and life skills from their background to the board table fostering different approaches and an ability to challenge group think.

Even within a specific diverse group – let’s take ethnicity, there is a huge range of experience. I recently spoke at a session for aspiring directors from within Super Diverse Women and two of the Chinese attendees stood up and discussed how they had huge diversity from others within their own communities, one being a third generation New Zealander and the other a second generation Australian which gave them different outlooks – a great example of never judging a book by the cover.

So, call it what you want willful blindness or unconscious bias – maybe Rob is right either way it is definitely also unconscionable!   

 

Cathy Parker is a director of Adrenalin Publishing, the owner of Management magazine, and serves on a number of boards.

Visited 12 times, 1 visit(s) today
Close Search Window