Skip to main content Skip to footer

Dan Robertson

Dan Robertson is the Director of VERCIDA Consulting. He is widely regarded as a subject matter expert on workplace diversity & inclusion, unconscious bias and inclusive leadership.

Listen to the episode

Tune in to find out:


  • The alignment of diversity and inclusion for mutual benefit.
  • The main arguments for diversity and inclusion and reducing group think.
  • Some of the research that backs up these arguments.
  • The biggest obstacle in the way of more diverse and inclusive workspaces.
  • The surprising biases around job applications and the names of the applicants.
  • Dan’s practical suggestions for battling bias in the hiring process.
  • The way in which our biases actually play out on teams and widen gaps.
  • The double bind and ‘thinking manager, thinking male’.
  • How gendered norms start early in the family at school.
  • Tactics for managing our own biases and mitigating their negative effects.
  • And much more!

[0:00:05.8] ANNOUNCER: Welcome back to Happy Porch Radio. The digital agency podcast
for progressive agency owners and web professionals. Season four is an exploration of diversity
in our industry. Especially gender diversity.
This season, your host, Barry O’Kane is joined by some wonderful cohosts. For conversations
with agency leaders and diversity and inclusion experts.
[0:00:32.0] BOK: Hello and welcome back to Happy Porch Radio. In this episode, we speak to
Dan Robertson who is an expert on workplace diversity, inclusion, unconscious bios and
inclusive leadership. As well as helping us to set the context for the rest of the season, Dan
shares some really useful insights and specific ideas that you may find immediately thought
provoking or impactful.
So let’s meet Dan.
[0:01:03.3] DR: Hello everybody, Dan Robertson, Director of Vercida Consulting. Vercida
Consulting, we are based in the UK but we operate globally and essentially advise global
corporations on what we call inclusive management.
[0:01:17.6] BOK: Brilliant, thanks Dan and welcome to the show.
I have Kelly with us as well. Hi Kelly.
[0:01:21.5] KM: Hi everyone, hello.
[0:01:23.0] BOK: Dan, we are having this conversation at the start of the season of Happy
Porch and our topic, our broad topic for this season is diversity and diversity in the agencies and
diversities in teams.
I’m really looking forward to this conversation and where I’d like to start if it’s okay is kind of,
talking about what we mean, what diversity is, what kind of things we’re talking about there and
why in the business sense that is important.
[0:01:49.4] DR: Good starting point actually Barry. I think where I’d actually like to start is with
two things actually, first of all starting with the what question. What is diversity inclusion and
then coming on to the why. You know, why is it important.
Let’s start with the – what are we talking about here? It’s interesting for me actually because I
spend my life with executives all over the world and most people talk about having a D&I
strategy. When they talk about D&I, they talk about it like that so they say D&I and they say
quite quickly as if the D bit and the I bit are kind of embedded together which they are. I think, if
we’re going to be smart about this and have, I guess, strategies which are effective, actually,
what we need to do is starting pulleys, to separate the D from the I. What I mean by that as
something relatively straightforward which is, when I talk about diversity, in a way, I’m simply
talking about the differences that we all have.
Those differences could be the things that we would expect, so things that would include
gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, often characteristics if you like, under legal
frameworks. I’m also thinking what’s broader than that. I’m obviously thinking about things like
social backgrounds, maybe somebody’s personality or their work style, perhaps if they’re an
introvert or an extrovert.
Diversity is simply about difference in this broad sense. Organizational inclusivity is something
which is clearly different from that. An inclusivity is about the extent to which organizations value
people who are different from them, the extent to which organizations respects people who are
different from them. That’s really not enough to create an environment which is truly inclusive, a sense of belonging.
The question for me is to what extent do organizations leverage the different skillsets of people
who are similar but also different.
Now, what’s interesting about this is that lots of organizations have and continue to operate
under this kind of managing diversity philosophy. Laura Liswood describes in a really interesting
sense actually, she suggests, which I agree with, is that what most corporations are continuing
to do is we really have this kind of nose arch approach diversity, we have you know, two of
them, two of them, two of them et cetera. What this approach has done, it’s created a really
interesting dynamic.
The intention is quite good but the outcome is something else which is we have seen some
increase in particularly gender and ethnic diversity in global corporations. But the dynamic
generally has been this. High levels of organization diversity or I should say, higher levels than
organization diversity but still quite low levels on organizational inclusivity. Now, that’s
interesting and we’ll come on to this in a minute in terms of the data because the data tells us
that if you want to get any rewards from this, you have to align diversity with inclusion.
When we end up with a dynamic way we have people who are different in our organizations but
they’re not necessarily valued, they’re not necessarily respected, their skillsets are not
leveraged, they don’t have that strong psychological contract, they don’t have that sense of
belonging. They do, one of two very basic things.
One is they feel a sense of disconnect with the organization and so they essentially start to vote
with their feet so we get this kind of talent drain essentially. It’s almost like having this kind of
maybe a metaphor is like having us sort of a bucket with a hole in it. We’re pouring all this kind
of diversity water in to fill up the bucket but they are seeping out the other end because we don’t
have the right structures. What’s interesting is, not only do we see a talent drained therefore but
the data tells us something slightly more interesting which is clearly some people do leave but a
whole bunch of people don’t leave actually. In fact, they stay.
They do something else and what they do is this, they mentally check out. Now that’s even
worse. This whole conversation for me is around saying, how can we make organization
decision making smarter and how can we create an environment where we have high levels of motivation, which leads to high levels of organizational performance and the correlation of that
would clearly be profitability if you’re a profit making business.
You simply can’t do that if you have this dynamic of high diversity, low inclusion. The first
message is, the agenda is not about diversity, it’s about the strategic alignment of diversity with
inclusion and once we learn two together, then we get the rewards.
[0:06:38.1] BOK: Is that kind of aligned to you know, thinking about diversity as a recruitment
problem versus thinking about it as a cultural team and retention part of the equation. Is that
part off what you're talking about there?
[0:06:54.4] DR: Yeah, you could simplify it in that way, you could say that what we want is we
want to recruit diversity into our organization. Diversity and recruitment are definitely aligned
fundamentally and then what you can say, we’re trying to get difference into our process
throughout recruitment activities. The next question would then be, well what do we do with
them once we’ve got them in and that sort of leaps, I guess, from the diversity bit into that space
of organizational inclusivity.
We’ve got all the difference in but we’re not really sure what to do with them.
[0:07:30.6] BOK: Just segueing then on to the second part of that, why is this - a very broad
question, but why is this question this topic even, why is it important?
[0:07:39.6] DR: I suppose, there’s a number of reasons why you could say it’s important, the
first thing that I would say is I actually think it’s the right thing to do. I do think that in the modern
globalized age, which you know, when we talk to professors at Harvard University, people like
Prof. Moss Kanter she will tell us that the global age is defined by certain factors.
It’s defined by uncertainty, you know, we see that at the moment, we see a lot of political, social
uncertainty, complexity, social and logical disruption. The other thing that she talks about is that
the globalized age is defined by diversity. Not only do I think it’s the right thing to do, it is
absolutely the smart thing to do because external stake holders and they could be customers if
you’re private or they could be, you know, community members if you’re not for profit, are and
will increasingly be diverse and different and we know that just in terms of how demographics work and movement in terms of populations. But the other argument is around talent. So, future
talent coming out of university is diverse and future talent is global, so that kind of exaggerates
the principle of how diverse our talent is.
There’s a number of arguments in terms of well, why does that matter? The basic principles are
this. We do know that when we have similarity and not just similarity of gender, ethnicity et
cetera but particularly similarity of thinking, that’s quite risky actually in terms of organizational
decision making. Similarity of thinking, clearly falls into group think. That’s quite deficient in
terms of our ability to connect with our external stake holders who are different from us.
We want to reduce the risk of group think but then we also want to have an uptake and the
uptake that we’re really looking for is high levels of connectivity with diverse stake holders. High
levels of innovation and creativity. Now, there is a number of research studies which have now
demonstrated that actually when we have, remember not diversity but when we have diversity
plus inclusion, we do actually see reduction of group think and an increase in innovation and
Deloitte for example, they produce reports in 2018 and it’s called The Diversity Inclusion
Revolution - Eight Powerful Truths and what they’ve shown is that business that promote
diversity and inclusive workforces, you know, they are twice as likely to meet financial targets,
three times more like to be high performing, six times more likely to be innovative and agile in
their mindset and approach et cetera.
That work is really built on some other research which has been conducted like for example
Boston Consulting Group. Boston Consulting Group produced a really interesting piece of
research in 2017, which really sought to measure the correlation between organizations which
are diverse and organizations which are inclusive and the outcome of that in terms of
innovation. It’s quite a significant piece of research because what it’s showing is that when we
do align those two principle of diversity inclusion, we can now chart a correlation between those
and business innovation.
That work again is built on previous research by people like Scott E. Page who is actually
interested in group decision making and his work has shown that when we have essentially diversity of thinking around the table, we are much more likely to be creative, we’re much more
likely to solve extremely complex problems et cetera.
This all falls into some data which McKenzie have been working on for a number of years. That
clearly shows that when you have - actually, they’ve only been able to measure it on two
metrics, they really looked at gender and ethnic diversity. But McKenzie data has shown that
when you have higher levels of gender and ethnicity, particularly at that executive level, we see
an uptake in terms of business profitability.
They’re just a number of studies which have been produced in the last few years. You know,
when we add them together, I think it’s now fairly unquestionable, that diversity is the right thing
to do but it is absolutely a smart thing to do as well.
[0:12:15.9] BOK: Yeah. One of the things I’m interested in is, I mean, I kind of feel like there is
a given there like we have the evidence and its the right thing to do, there’s almost a more
imperative on top of the smart thing that you’ve just described. What are the things, what are the
hurdles to overcome?
[0:12:34.2] DR: Good question. The hurdles to overcome is essentially, human beings and what
I mean by that is something which is simple, which is human beings have a neurological default
position, we are neurologically designed to gravitate towards people who are like us. We are
designed to gravitate towards people who look like us, who sound like us, who think like us, who
come from similar backgrounds, who share hobbies, who share interests et cetera.
That causes an interesting - a problem actually even though organizations often have quite
good intent to do those two things of bringing difference into their organization, our human brain
gets in the way and people like Daniel Kahneman, have popularized the notion of cognitive
biases actually and Kahneman, in his quite similar work actually, Thinking Fast and Slow has
really kind of conceptualized how the human brain works.
And we‘ve known this, you know, psychologies have known this for a number of years actually
but he talks about human brains operating on two systems actually. It is called system thinking
on two systems so we’ve got system one which is our kind of fast thinking process. That’s the kind of automatic, so the brain is you know, operates on automatic mode, it is not rational, it is
emotionally driven, it’s instinctual, it’s very impulsive in terms of its thinking.
Then you’ve got system two which is more the kind of the rational part of the brain. But as the
human brain is making decisions so for example in a recruitment context, when we see a
resume, there is information on that resume which would be useful for a hiring manager to make
an assessment of whether they want to select this individual for interview.
What the brain does leads the resume and it will, the conscious brain will essentially do what it
should be doing so we will look for experiences and competencies, et cetera. As the conscious
brain is reading for competencies and experience, the unconscious is also reading the resume
at a super quick speed. Only really interesting one basic thing. The thing that the unconscious
brain is interested in is, to what extent this is candidate like me or to what extent is this kind of
like us in our – you know, the organizational collective.
This notion of likability is playing out in terms of the hiring process and there are clues or hints
which the unconscious brain will look for so they will look for things like what university did you
go to? If you went to Oxford or Cambridge or Durham and the hiring manager went to Oxford,
Cambridge or Durham, that automatically creates a sense of affinity.
We get that affinity by playing out. There’ll be other kid of clues such as even, you know, your
hobbies your interest, one which I think is fascinating is even based on somebody’s name.
There are research to do which are generally called comparative CD studies. These studies
have been done in the UK, a significant wellness done by the Australian National University.
Studies have been done in Sweden and all over USA, Canada.
What all these studies show is that unquestionably, hiring managers, not at a conscious level
but the unconscious level are more likely to select for interview a candidate that simply has a
name that fits within the dominant culture. For example, in the UK context, the UK government
sent out almost 3,000 CVs for real jobs, real employers. There were different names, one was a
white Western sounding name, what was the traditional African sounding name, one was a
traditional Asian sounding name. The results were simply this. If you had a white western sounding name, on average, you had to
submit about nine CVs resumes since you get that call up for interview. If you had a traditional
Asian or African send name, on average, you have to submit about 16 CVs. That is a really
significant differential simply based on a name.
I’ll use a word which is deliberate actually which that decision making is actually irrational
because what we’re looking for as hiring managers or what hiring managers are looking for is,
two basic things. One is, competencies, to an extent does the applicant have skills, experience,
et cetera.
The other thing that they should be looking for is potential. Now, there are all sorts of
complexities around who gets into universities, Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge, et cetera. Even if
you disagree with some of the problems around it, there might be a rational argument to say,
well, actually, if we have a graduate from Oxford or Cambridge, it’s a safer bet actually. The risk
is less.
Now, I don’t necessarily agree with that principle but I can see the argument around it. That’s
interesting but when we’re making assessments and selections for interview based on name.
That is absolutely irrational. There is no way on earth that we could ever make a correlation
between somebody’s name - I’ll give you two data points. My name is Dan Robertson, can you
make an assessment of competences or potential based on those data points, one data point is
Dan, second data point is Robertson. The answer to that is simply no, it’s impossible and yet,
what’s interesting is, we do that all the time.
We have this real problem actually in terms of how bias of how bias plays out and there’s all
different types of bias, this is clearly affinity bias. Which is that notion of likability. But other key
types of bias, particularly in that recruitment context, confirmation bias, clearly is a major
obstacle in terms of hiring people who are different.
The first time that we’d see a candidate would be on that piece of paper. We would select either
in or out based on arbitrary thing such as name, the second time you would see a candidate
would probably be the interview. But once we have an original assessment of somebody based
on information on the resume, we start to look for information which confirms either our positive or our negative, of the candidate. We know that confirmation bias plays out there and then the
final one is just the halo and the horns effect.
Again, Kahneman talks about how the halo and the horns effect is really probably one of the
most prevalent types of biases, what they mean is if there are certain competencies that
employee values, you might value for example, you know, analytical skills, depending on what
the role is. If you have a candidate with high levels of analytics, you might start to assume that
because they’re greater analytics, they’re really good at client engagement or presentation of
But they’re clearly different competencies. The horns effect is the opposite of that. If the
candidate is not good at analytics, you might also assume that they’re not going to be great with
clients engagement or something else. They’re the real types of biases that we need to be
mindful of in terms of that kind of recruitment context.
[0:19:52.3] KM: This is absolutely fascinating Dan. It’s something that my agency have had
challenges with. In the sense that we find it quite difficult to build a diverse team where we’re
located, which is in a relatively non-diverse area.
What kind of organizations do to assist with bias removal when they’re hiring?
[0:20:12.7] DR: Yeah, that’s a good question actually. I think there’s a number of things that we
can do. I think we can do things at the system level. System redesign. Then in the behavioral
level. Some simple examples. If we take the, the lifecycle if you like. The first thing we do when
we’re hiring is we talk about job designs.
You know, person specifications, job descriptions. We know that without going too much into the
whole psychobabble, Language is separated between what’s called agentic language which is
more male sensibility. Terms like strategic player, you know, terms like even gravi-task, those
sorts of things, then communal which is much more female sensibility. Language and
phraseology is embedded within person specs and job descriptions. That’s often a barrier for
candidates there. If we can remove that and there’s some smart technology these days, I mean, Textio, the
classic one which organizations would employ the AI talk to just highlight those words and
phrases so we can neutralize bias to a certain extent from our job design process. The second
thing that I would encourage organizations to do is really simple stuff actually which is in terms
of candidate attraction, just to think about the words, phrases and images.
That organizations use in their campaign. If you have an image which is basically a whole bunch
of white middle aged men on your candidate traction campaign, who is that going to appeal to?
Or clearly, it’s more likely appeal to white middle aged men. Is it politically correct to say that
actually, if we have women, minor ethnic images on there, that will make a difference. Well,
actually, it’s not about political correctness, it’s about saying what is that science that says what
works and we do know, there’s actually a related concept called stereotype threat. That when
candidates who are different, see that image of a whole bunch of white men, they’ll absolutely
likely to, or rather than, less likely to apply and they are much more likely to be put off.
Having diverse images does actually have an impact in terms of our candidate attraction
process. Then if we follow the circle round, if we talk about short listing. In an ideal world, it
would be better if organizations used application forms as supposed to resumes because what
we would like to do is move much more towards blind decision making which is taking
information out of the process, so we try to mitigate the affinity bias so if we can remove things
like name, somebody’s post code even, if we can remove their hobbies and their interests.
Some institutions now or even remove in university from that short listing process, if we can do
that, you know, all of that information goes on a front end sheet, that will go into a HR database
and the hiring managers just gets another sheet that says, you know, one side, these are the
competencies I’m looking for and now the candidate has given their examples which hopefully
matches the competencies.
That removes possibility for affinity to really kind of impact that short listing decision. I mean,
there will always be hints within the candidate’s responses. You know, blind decision making
has actually shown to have quite a significant effect.
I think finally, just in terms of interviewing and debriefing. I think the interview stage, rather than
doing one to one interviews, I would absolutely recommend doing group interview processes and using a preset of questions and what that just ensures that we stick to a script and that we
don’t go off track and start asking all sorts of questions which really fall into questions around
what are you really about, you know, tell me about yourself, you know, all they are is code for,
you know, I’m trying to figure out to an extent, you’re like to what extent you fit into the
organizational culture.
If we can avoid that and stick to a script and then using aggregated scoring systems, if you
aggregate scores from candidates and then use the aggregate score in the debrief, again, a
bias is more likely to be mitigated. The final thing is, just try and use some kind of devil’s
advocate throughout the system, you know, somebody who perhaps even sits on the interview
panel or is involved actually in short listing, is involved in the debriefing and their role is to be
your critical friend, your critical challenge.
If they hear conversations around organizational fit, or around affinity bias, their role is to call it
out and essentially to keep us on track. Now, all of those examples I’ve given you, they’re
relatively straightforward but the beauty is, the evidence has said that they actually do
absolutely without question have an impact, a positive impact in terms of getting diverse
candidates through our recruitment process.
[0:25:11.5] KM: Brilliant, thank you. I guess that external person could be, in our case, we have
an external HR support, so it could be that person sitting in on the interviews with us.
[0:25:23.1] DR: Yeah, absolutely. Could be somebody from HR, it could be somebody from,
maybe a bit of an affinity group. So many organizations will have, you know, LGBT networks or
BME networks. My only reflection is it could be a wide range of stake holders. I think it’s
important to have somebody who has an element of power in the organization.
The reason that’s important is that when they do challenge, particularly if they’re challenging
people who are of the same grade or higher grade, you know, their voice essentially carries
some kind of weight. So we don’t want people stuck in that process who’s voice – you know my
big note from senior execs for example.
[0:26:07.1] BOK: I also just wanted to mention there is a couple of books and links that you
have mentioned there which allowed the shownotes, one was Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow
which is an outstanding book and I think you also mentioned Textio and another tool?
[0:26:18.9] DR: Yes, Textio is an AI tool which has been shown to be fairly effective in terms of
blind decision making. There are a whole range of tools, one is a gap gym purse and a few of
those but we can make sure that we send the links out so that people get a sight of what they
[0:26:36.9] BOK: Yeah, cool. And as usual on that is where those notes are.
We’ve talked a lot there about those bias in the recruitment process and you have described
really well there are different types of bias. I wonder is it the same thought process or the same
kinds of things in terms of with building the tip on really about retention but in terms of team
interactions and building and educating people in terms of working together?
[0:27:02.6] DR: The biases play out for sure so we know the affiliate to bias, absolute
confirmation by some halo and horns effect. They will definitely have an impact. I think what’s
interesting actually is we know now not just what the biases are but we also know what the
impact of the biases are in terms of not just tolerate retention but progression. So the hotspots
are particularly things like work allocation. So managers who are responsible for teams and they
are allocating work. If the work is fairly routine, bias will creep into the process but it is not
necessarily that significant.
One of the things that I would ask people to watch out for is if they have perhaps a stretch
project or a project which has high importance to them personally or a high importance to your
organization. We know that managers - because how bias plays there is at the underlying level
is biases often good by a sense of trust. So who do we trust?
Or we are more likely to trust people who are like us, people in our angry patch today. So we
know that trust is a driver in terms of how bias plays out. So we are more likely to allocate
stretch projects essentially to people who are like us. When I say that that is correct but
remember, we need to interpret likability in a broad sense. So like us could play out to cross the lines of gender, ethnicity, et cetera. But it could also play out across the lines of personality and
work style.
But we do know for sure that work allocation is a particular hotspot in organizations. The second
thing is around feedback. If somebody is in your in group they look like you, sound like you,
think like you. I think this is particularly interesting actually. If somebody gives the manager a
piece of work back which is substandard essentially not to the expectations of the manager, the
manager might give him some fairly open and some fairly robust feedback actually.
If somebody is different and it just depend on the degrees of differences, they are far less is like
to give them that really harsh direct feedback. The feedback would be around the edges, often
muted yet not as direct, etcetera and the reason for that is really interesting and partly it’s two
drivers. One is about particular behavior. So if somebody is in your in group and they essentially
screw up on a project what do you do? You say, “Look, you know I am a bit disappointed. Let’s
have a coffee and let’s figure out how we can fix this.”
But the conversation can be fairly direct and the reason you do that is because if somebody is in
your in group, managers can’t always do this but they think they know how that person is going
to respond. So they don’t get anxious around it. If people are significantly different particularly
based on things like rates that makes hiring managers much more anxious actually.
The second principle is around, if we go back to the notion of bias itself. When we think of the
term bias, I guess it feels quite negative. You know nobody likes thinking of themselves as
being biased even though we are. But actually one of the motivations for affinity bias is inclusion
which is slightly ironic. So motivation is not necessarily to exclude. Exclusion is an outcome of
your driver to include and what I basically mean by that is to be very simple which is if you look
like me, you sound like me, you think like me, you went to a similar university.
We just groove in the same way and you have screwed up, well actually I’ve got some
emotional connection with you. So I am quite likely to say, “You know what? Don’t worry about
it. Let’s go for a coffee, let’s figure it out.” So the emotional bonds and the particular behavior
leaves to one set of behaviors which would be different from a set of behaviors where
somebody’s different and there’s no emotionality connected to that.
The third point I just want to raise is around most organizations these days would have formal
processes such as mentoring and sponsorship of diverse groups but at the informal level that’s
something that we need to pay attention to so who gets the informal sponsorship. Actually one
of my most precious commodities actually in life at the moment is something that is much more
important to me than money, than anything else apart from my family, is time. Time is my most
important commodity.
So an interesting question would be, “Who do I spend my time with?” Now with organizations,
you know if somebody is walking down the corridor and a colleague says to a manager, “Have
you got five minutes?” They might be like, “Yeah, sure let’s go for coffee.” Somebody else might
say, “Have you got five minutes?” And they might be like, “Yeah sure. Check in with my
secretary. She will find some time for you.”
You’ve got absolutely different responses to the same request. This is what we call micro
behaviours and how micro behaviours play out. So who do people spend their time with when they
go to keep like meetings, who do they choose to take with them? When they are in a meeting
who’s ideas do they support, whose ideas do they close down. Who do they talk up even when
they are not in the room? On their own, they’re quite major but now if we add the dots up they
are super significant.
So if we are allocating work to people that look like us and sound like us, when we give them
the feedback in a different way, when we do informal support, even drinks after work, building
that affinity bias, etcetera. It actually does start to have quite a direct impact on people’s actual
skills and competences. So people that look and sound the same, they often do become
competent, more competent over people who are different because of these processes.
And it is interesting that when I go into global corporations, one of the first things that I often ask
for is the pipeline data and when I look at the pipeline data, it is fascinating that often looks like
people already at the top and these are reasons why.
So if we are going to think about how we can mitigate bias from that kind of inclusion, the kind of
talent retention, progression perspective, we’ve got to deconstruct how it plays out and then we
can move into right now we know what’s going on and what can we do about it.
[0:32:59.7] BOK: Dan one thing I am interested there in what you just said is the informal
support. Because a lot of the listeners and myself and Kelly are running or part of smaller
organizations there, I think the informal thing is maybe even more relevant or significant. Do you
think that’s a fair observation in smaller teams and smaller businesses?
[0:33:21.1] DR: I would absolutely say it is definitely at least as equally as important. I mean I
suppose remember when even you get large global corporations actually, in reality, they are all
a bunch of micro businesses internally. So if you think about global law firm, you know you
could have hundreds of people in an office. Actually they’re governed by practice groups and so
the practice, you know the partner in the practice group might have an associate pool of, I don’t
know, 10, 15, 20 maybe.
And often even in big corporates like whether its banking or insurance actually it is the middle
manager that is responsible for the work allocation and the feedback, et cetera. And the middle
manager generally might have, I don’t know, a team of 15 or 20 or something like that. You
know, we’re not really managing 2, 300 people. You know that’s all broken down by the
organizational structure. So I am not sure whether it would be more prevalent in smaller
organizations. But it definitely would be equally as prevalent for sure.
And as well as working with huge globals, we work with tiny charities, lots of none for profits and
without question, I have seen and experienced this kind of or this kinds of biases play out in
those sorts of organizations. I think the size of organization is less relevant actually. Yeah.
[0:34:49.9] BOK: Yeah, like Kelly just said, there is so many - so much there and so much, I
would love to dig in some more. One thing Kelly that I think was really interesting comment that
you said, you emailed me recently was an observation around the interviews you do with female
agency owners or founders and that from your observations, in fact a lot of them started while
on maternity leave or with children or something along those lines.
[0:35:15.9] KM: Yes, so I did a little bit of Twitter stalking, Dan, I’m not going to lie and I saw
that you posted out an article, Six Myths about Women Leaders, and it was really interesting to
me. So myth number one was that women are not as ambitious as men and it stated that it is often
argued that women chose to hold back their careers when their children are young and I found
that really interesting because the significant number of the women agency owners that I have
been interviewing had actually started their agencies when on maternity leave or with very
young children. So I just found that really interesting that that myth was even relevant and I just
wondered what your experience of that had been.
[0:36:01.1] DR: Yeah and actually what you are suggesting there tells us something like super
fascinating, which is these are obviously women who are super ambitious. And actually imagine
being on maternity leave and then starting a business, you know that is really hard work. So the
notion that women are less motivated, less ambitious et cetera, just doesn’t stack up to the
evidence and what I generally find is the blocker, remember the blocker operates at two levels
actually. Actually we can even describe it as three levels.
One is what we might call system itself. So what I mean by that is the process is in the policies.
So I actually did a lecture fairly recently and argued that part time working just simply doesn’t
work. It is not very practical. So maternity and paternity policies is the way that maternity and
paternity policies are set up actually acts to disadvantage to women. So I think we should
actually scrap flexible working.
Because what we are doing is tinkering and tailoring around the edges so we say the default
position is nine to five or you know, nine until whenever we leave these days but you can half a
Tuesday off or you know maybe even 3:30. That doesn’t stack up into the pressure that men
and women have in the modern age. So I think we just get rid of it and I think we should operate
on a system of what we call agile working or dynamic working.
Where through technology you can work in different places and just flex up your time and the
rest of it. The other problem though is even if we did address that it is the organizational culture.
So I know women who are super bright, super clever, super ambitious, they have adopted some
kind of flexible approach to work but just the everyday comments. The kind of, “Oh you are
leaving early today are you?” Or just actually being overlooked for a promotion.
The kind of out of sight out of mind mentality which goes on in organizations and all of that. So
the thing which women fall into which is a particular type of social bias which women face in men don’t was two actually. One is gender benevolence and that is when women do come back
after maternity, the intention actually of managers is positive but the outcome is negative. So the
intention is, “Look person X has just come back from maternity. I won’t give them this big stretch
project because you know they need to figure out their work and life balance.”
But actually what they don’t do is have an effective conversation with the individual. So rather
than come to an agreement of what works with both, the manager makes a decision which is
not giving you the stretch project. When you don’t get that that really has an impact on your own
development. The other issue which is really important actually is what’s called the double bind
and the double bind is relatively straight forward actually.
We measure, psychologically, we measure colleagues and individuals on two metrics actually.
One is warmth, how likability, to what extent do we like somebody. The other one is
competencies, how competent do we see somebody. The ideal in an organizational context is
we want to like people but we want to see them as competent. The issue with organizations or
with individuals is when women have children, they start to fall down the likability framework.
Because at the unconscious level and quite frankly, the conscious level as well, lots of
managers say, “Oh well actually that is a bit of a headache for me you know because I’ve got to
manage all of this work well the people have to pick it up.”
And then they don’t get the stretching work when they come back. So they go quickly
somewhere in from high warmth, high competencies to low warmth and then they’re not getting
to work to low competencies. But when women also behave in a particular way, so when men
rather behave as assertive and confident, you know, those sorts of behaviours and when women
behave in the same way, they are not described as assertive or confident.
They are described as bossy or pushy. So we see this really interesting difference in terms of
attribution bias actually which we describe as the double buy in which women face and men
don’t seem to face that in the same dynamic. Any falls into this pattern generally what we call I
think manager think male which falls into that.
[0:40:23.4] KM: That is really interesting because that means something else though that I
wanted to ask you about in terms of gender bias in the classroom because you talk a little bit
there about how women are described as bossy rather than confident and I wanted you know, how far that goes back and what we can do to try and kind of eliminate gender bias in the
[0:40:44.0] DR: Yeah, I mean it starts super young actually and I think if you think about when
children grow up, first of all where do we get our biases from. Well we are not really – even
though we have this neurological default positions of gravitating towards similarity actually
biases are a cultural phenomenon and it is historical. So bias is a learned process. So where do
we get our learning from? Well we get our learning from the family environment.
So what is the role of your parents as you are growing up. What are the types of jobs that you
see your mother do? What are the types of jobs that you see your grandmother or your aunties
do? What are the kinds of jobs that you see your uncles do or maybe your older brothers and
sisters? So what we see in the family home starts to dictate a neurological connection in terms
of the roles of men and women and that connection is reinforced through every time we turn on
the TV.
This is a really interesting study called redrawing the balance and they did – and we can send a
link to this actually in terms of - after the podcast. They asked children in primary school to do
some drawing and they asked them to draw a fighter pilot, a surgeon and a fire fighter and this
was a mixed class of boys and girls and what they essentially found is that I think out of 61, I
think the number is 57 boys and girls drew men as fire fighters, pilots and surgeons.
And what is interesting about that is that the girls were just as likely to draw to equate those
roles with maleness as the boys. So we know this process starts super young and we also know
that there’s lots of these micro behaviours again which play out. So when we are in a school
playground or when we are taking kids out on the weekend, what do we say to the boys? “Go
off, go and run, have a play, climb the tree, don’t get too dirty but off you go and behave.”
With girls actually what do we say? It is something absolutely different, “Don’t mess up your
dress, don’t run too fast you are going to fall over.” So all - we send that these constant cultural
signals which says to boys, you behave in this way and we say to these girls here a different set
of signals and you behave in this way and when a girl behaves in a way which is we define as
too masculine, we label them. So we labelled them as tomboys or something like that. And that is a controlling mechanism actually to keep girls in their particular gender and the same
principle applies to boys as well. So when a boy acts too feminine, again there is names and
things like that and kids as we know can be just as cruel as adults. So you know the names that
boys and girls may get in a playground are often designed at the unconscious level and
sometimes at the conscious level just to keep his into out as kind of a gender norms.
[0:43:44.6] BOK: Yeah, so much there as well. Unfortunately we are starting to run out of time,
Dan, otherwise I would love to keep going but one final question or maybe a final point to leave
our listeners on or leave me on, thinking about bias what are the next steps for me or for our
listeners to look at to learning more about bias? How I can change that myself and in my team.
[0:44:09.0] DR: Yeah, so we’ll end with a positive way which you know it is not all doom and
gloom. We do know actually that you can’t eradicate bias. That is not neurologically possible but
you can absolutely learn to mitigate it. So some things to think about, first of all get tested and I
mean that and what I mean by that is there is a test which is called Harvard IAT. If listeners
Google some things, so if you Google “Project Implicit”.
It was developed by Harvard University. It is a pretty cool test. It is the only test globally which
can measure your unconscious biases on a whole range of different groups. The test is free of
charge it takes about 10 minutes. If you do a range of your test, you will get a score. I will see
that as a piece of individual intelligence because if it throws up a test where there’s space in
gender or disability or something that is quite a small information because then you can say,
“Well with groups A and B actually I have got a relatively low level of bias so when I am around
those groups I know that I am not particular vulnerable to my biases so I can relax. If I have a
high level of bias towards let’s say somebody with a physical disability,” when you are in work or
in the presence of somebody with a disability, you can simply pay more attention. So that brings
to awareness what are biases is and it helps us to adjust in terms of behavior.
There are some other principles around what is called individuating which means don’t lump
groups together. So when we have experiences, we have a general tendency to cluster. So for
example, if you’ve ever go on a holiday and I don’t know, you are going to let’s say Rome, we
might say, “Oh we have been to Rome,” and we used language like all Italians are. So we’ll
clump clustered counter groups and rather saying all women are or all Italians are, we should
individuate by name. And that again starts to break down biases.  The other things that we can do so contact have shown to have some quite interesting effects
actually. So the contact hypothesis is around just get to know people who are different from you
and how do you do that in the world of work? Have coffee, have lunch, have dinner with people
who are different when you are organizing social activities. Make sure they are organized in a
way which everybody can participate in.
The other thing that I would say though which do have quite an important impact is to basic one
is what is the principle of amplification and what amplification simply means is learn to amplify
the voices and the skills of people who are different and how do you do that. Well, you do that
through when you are constructing a team, maybe some project team. Make sure you have
diversity in your project team.
When you are organizing maybe some internal event or you are going to an external event, who
just think very basic things, so question who is on the conference panel. Make sure that if you
basically construct a conference panel with more women, more BME groups, etcetera that starts
to send signals to people who are different that we value, tell them and you also can make it
here and so providing speaking opportunities, you know rotating those presentations to lots with
difference in mind that is really important.
Making sure that even internal communications, so internal, whether it’s report or annual
reports, they have diverse images on and the rest of their - I would encourage people to think
very carefully about work allocation particular and feedback. Work allocation feedback is so
critical in terms of people’s career development.
Sponsorship, there has been some interesting work from the Center for Talent and Innovation
based over in New York. They have done some really interesting work around sponsorships. It’s
shown to be very effective. It’s slightly more effective I would suggest than mentoring. So I
wouldn’t advocate not doing mentoring in an organization. I would stick with that actually but I
would say if you really want to wrap this up, start to sponsor people who are different from you
in your pipeline. Once we get to a conversation about who we should promote to leader at those
calibration meetings it’s way too late by then. So sponsor somebody early in the pipeline. They are the basic principles that said these things are shown to work. Finally what I would say
is you can start to look for bias as well. A bias is actually relatively easy to detect because it
results in organizational trends and patterns. So look for trends and patterns in your hiring
process. So you know who is getting, who is applying for roles, who is getting shortlisted, who is
being appointed.
But also look for trends and patterns in your internal stakeholder populations. So who is moving
up the pipeline, who is staying in the organization, who is generally likely to leave, that sort of
thing and the final thing that I would add to that is when I talk about look for trends and patterns
using data, I mean database on hard data. There is a metric around the protected groups but
also use things like through engagement surveys. They are often useful where measuring
warmth and coldness in terms of organizational culture.
[0:49:18.8] BOK: Outstanding. Thank you so much Dan, I really appreciate your time today.
There is so much there and it is really interesting. That’s a really good kick start to our season,
our upcoming episodes talking about diversity and speaking to different people.
[0:49:32.9] KM: Thank you so much Dan that was incredible. Thank you.
[0:49:36.1] DR: Thank you all very much.
[0:49:37.8] BOK: And Dan finally just to close, where can people find out more about you and
about the work you do?
[0:49:42.2] DR: So they can find out by going to I am happy that we
also have a whole bunch of free resources. So people can email me at
[email protected]. I am more than happy to send out - we have a philosophy of
sharing. I am more than happy to share information. So either come to the website or just email
me. Perhaps I can send you my details and we can put that in the links to the end of the stuff as
well and we can go from there.
[0:50:12.1] BOK: Absolutely, yeah we’ll definitely do that and link everything on Thanks again Dan, thanks Kelly.
[0:50:17.2] KM: Thank you, thank you both.
[0:50:19.1] DR: Thanks all.
[0:50:26.1] BOK: You can get all the links and notes from this episode on
where you can also find out how to send us questions, feedback and get involved in the
conversation about this series.
If you enjoyed the show, please share with anyone else who might enjoy it too. Thanks for