Diversity & Inclusion Series, Part 3: Behavioral Science Outputs for Diversity


In our Diversity and Inclusion Series, we embark on a journey to answer the most commonly asked questions related to the topic – everything from how behavioral science consulting works in the context of diversity, to some of our favorite nudges in action. Check out the other parts from the series here.

Q: Now that I’ve learned about applied behavioral science, can you share in tangible terms the types of solutions that are often developed?

A: As introduced in the last section of our series, we can work to “debias processes” and create specific solutions intended to target all stakeholders. The solutions will serve to address the client’s objectives, such as recruitment, retention, promotion or inclusion, as well as a specific group, like men, women or minority groups based on race, age, nationality, sexual orientation, religion or people with disabilities.

Some of our clients have allowed us to gently share a few of the solutions we have worked on with them in order to give other proponents in this space an idea of what can be conceived and perhaps used. Of course, these are all specific to a particular context, and thus some are more replicable than others.

Redesigning a Process

We start out with an example in changing processes. This comes from our bank client that we referenced previously – how to overcome the status quo bias that was present among hiring managers at the bank.

We observed that the process for selecting interviewees was riddled with biases. CVs were oftentimes sent to the hiring manager without an appropriate reference point, such as a list of competencies for them to review the CV against, competency by competency. Sometimes CVs were sent together – so the comparison point became the other CV, again not ideal. And because CVs were sent at different times throughout the day or week, the context or mindset in which the manager was assessing them varied. All of this was the perfect scenario for the status quo bias to be present. Meaning, in this case, to recruit the profile that most closely looked like the former person occupying the position.

The process change that was proposed to managers and adopted by some, was that managers would no longer be part of the preselection process anymore, and instead agree to directly meet people selected by HR, including less classical profiles. The managers only accessed information on the candidates as they met them – therefore encouraging them to be open to new profiles in their recruitment.

Implementing Tools

Our next example is in the area of implementing tools that can be used to help debias processes. Many examples exist in this area, however, one must be careful when implementing tools as adoption can be tricky, given the presence of status quo bias and the overconfidence effect. Because of this we limit the number of tools we propose and also leverage a co-creation process with the client to seed ambassadors within the organization that can help support adoption.

Specifically, the types of tools we have proposed vary, like the use of algorithms to debias vocabulary across job ads and all internal processes, such as annual reviews. We have also proposed shared templates for evaluations, as well as additional tools for supporting people discussions.

Optimizing Communications

While working with a tech university that aimed to recruit more women and underrepresented groups, we focused strongly on their communications. We consulted on optimizing event posters and social network posts, as well as creating a behaviorally informed communications campaign. This also included nudging the candidates’ path from online tests, to the emails received, to on-campus selection.

As an example, one step in the selection process is comprised of asking all candidates that have passed the online tests to come and attend an in-person presentation. The challenge though is that it is very difficult to secure a seat, and potential students must come back to the webpage repeatedly to check whether new dates are open or new seats are available, without receiving notifications or updates. As we know, when something is difficult, it is a true deterrent, in particular for people hesitating or not fully committed. As a result, a lot of potential students abandon the process here. But are the people who are persistent really the ones that we want to recruit? In other words, is motivation the right single criteria?

As such, we helped this university rethink the process as a whole and each step of the process by reconnecting it to its values of (1) welcoming everyone of all age, social background, gender, academic background, etc. and (2) still, at the same time, be selective and value excellence. Accepting both, we were able to work on a process that embraces these two values and match it through consistent communication.

As we continue our series next week, we’ll be sharing additional concrete illustrations from public cases, including the results that were achieved.

Q: Is it fair to say that these solutions are replicable and can be used by all organizations to achieve greater diversity in their workforces?

A: Honestly, it depends. Some are, some aren’t. For example, we could rationally conceive that changing the default setting in some processes are universally appropriate and effective. Such as ensuring everyone is mobile by default, or that all talents are considered for a specific job opening by default. But we’ve also seen instances where nudges are very specific to a culture or process and unique to a particular client or industry, and thus less replicable.

We often have clients ask us for a list of nudges that we know work. But we caution against “nudge washing”, where we haphazardly throw all different nudge solutions at a problem without knowing the situation well. That is why we spend a large amount of time upfront during the observation phase, to truly identify the barriers in the context of our client’s challenge. As we know from behavioral science, contexts change how people behave. What works in one corporate context may not work in another.  That’s why we naturally encourage clients to consult with us for an ad hoc approach and solution.

Q: And how do you know if a nudge solution will work?

A: Like many things in life, we don’t know until we try it. This takes us back to the experimentation stage that we alluded to earlier in our article. Experimentation is a very important part of our process. Once we have worked with clients on prioritizing our solutions we deploy them to see their impact.

It’s important we design this phase from an experimentation standpoint. Meaning having set KPIs so we can measure the impact of the solutions against pre-identified objectives. Naturally the KPIs will vary depending on the challenge and the desired outcome we are seeking. If possible, executing the experiment as an A/B test would be ideal – but this is not always possible.

Once the experiment is under way, it’s business as usual. But we work with our clients to understand the impact of the new process or solution. We want to ensure things are easy and uncomplicated and that there are no unintended secondary consequences that arise. And when the positive results come in, we work to explore the scalability of the solution across the organization, where similar challenges and contexts exist.

Q: As we look to the future, how do you imagine behavioral science being incorporated into organizations for all challenges, not just diversity?

A: Basically, any problems that exist where there are humans involved, we want to be there to support positive change. On the Nudge Management side, which is what we refer to when nudging within organizations, we are looking to support companies on encouraging winning behaviors among managers and employees. This can be everything from encouraging entrepreneurial behaviors among sales reps and the adoption of new sales automation platforms, to promoting compliance with safety behavior, to adopting behaviors that support communication or innovation.

If you missed them, check out the different parts from our Diversity and Inclusion Series: Why Behavioral Science for Diversity?How to Apply Behavioral Science for Diversity,  Mind Your Language #WOMEN4STEMReducing the Impact of Stereotypes During Performance ReviewsPromoting Diversity in International Mobility by Reframing a Question and Reducing the Gender Pay Gap by Reducing Ambiguity around Negotiating Salary.

Interested in knowing more about how to encourage gender diversity by design? Get in touch.