ReimagineHR: How Inclusion Nudges Can Augment Your Organization’s D&I Strategy

ReimagineHR: How Inclusion Nudges Can Augment Your Organization’s D&I Strategy

As shown in a growing body of research, including our work at Gartner, companies that invest in diversity see bottom-line benefits including greater innovation and ability to penetrate new markets. Organizations that create inclusive work environments, furthermore, accrue more of these benefits than those that focus on diversity alone. But if inclusion is the key to unleashing the value of diversity, it can also be a heavier lift: Our research shows that most employees—especially frontline employees—don’t think their managers successfully foster an inclusive work environment.

Creating an inclusive environment means, in part, mitigating the impact of conscious and unconscious bias on talent processes like hiring, promotion, and performance management. Most organizations attack this challenge through anti-bias training, which can bolster employees’ confidence in diversity and inclusion efforts but often falls short of bridging the gap between increasing managers’ awareness of bias and actually changing their behavior. Training targets attitudes as opposed to actions, its effects diminish over time, and it requires significant effort and expense to implement at scale.

An essential lesson from our research is that best-practice D&I initiatives don’t just train managers in how to avoid bias, but actually embed bias mitigation into those talent processes. Accordingly, there is now a growing movement within the D&I community to complement anti-bias training with “inclusion nudges”: soft, non-intrusive mental pushes that help us make more objective decisions and affects predictable behaviors to make them more inclusive.

At Gartner’s ReimagineHR conference in Orlando, Florida on Sunday, Gartner’s Jeanine Prime led a panel discussion with Lorelei Whitney, Assistant Vice President Human Resources at Cargill; and Eric Dziedzic, Director, Diversity and Inclusion at Amgen, about their experiences implementing inclusion nudges at their organizations.

What does an inclusion nudge look like?

At a basic level, there are three types of inclusion nudges:

  • “Feel the need” nudges change behavior by making the unconscious brain feel the need for change, prompting an emotional rather than intellectual response, such as by illustrating leadership diversity.
  • Process nudges adjust organizational processes to make them more objective and structurally resistant to the influence of bias.
  • Framing nudges encourage a more inclusive thought process by presenting information or decisions in ways that prompt more inclusive thought processes.

At Cargill, Whitney explained, HR saw bias coming into talent conversations, and therefore focused on nudges to influence them. One nudge was to color-code employees’ names and include their pictures with the results of these conversations, to give managers a visual representation of how they were interacting with employees of different demographic groups. Cargill also introduced bias champions, who would participate in these meetings and call out questions and statements that might come from a place of bias. For example, a bias champion might ask: Would you complain about this employee being “edgy” if she were a man? The sign that this nudge was working was when managers began to identify their own biased thinking without the bias champion’s intervention. Cargill also introduced a nudge in succession planning by requiring managers to start with the presumption that everyone is eligible for promotion and make a case for why an individual employee was not ready.

At Amgen, Dziedzic recounted, nudges included several “micro” interventions as well as a “macro” effort to create a more inclusive culture. The micro efforts included a hiring guide for managers on Amgen’s sales team, which prompted action with simple questions such as asking whether had a diverse interview panel or a diverse slate of candidates. The company also introduced a gender decoder for job listings, to ensure that Amgen was not inadvertently discouraging women from applying to jobs, especially in areas with low levels of gender diversity. On the macro level, Dziedzic added, the company has embedded inclusion advocates as advisors in its DAI (decider/advisor/informed) decision-making model.

What makes a nudge work?

The best nudges, Whitney said, don’t need a lot of training and explanation. The simpler the nudge and the easier it is to implement, the more likely it will be to succeed, especially if your organization is just getting started with inclusion nudges. Dziedzic agreed, noting that some of the most successful nudges at Amgen were simple twists on things leaders were already doing. If the process change is simple, he noted, securing executive buy-in also becomes less of a hurdle. To illustrate this point, Whitney discussed a nudge Cargill tried to include in their interview process that didn’t work: Interviewers would take a break in the middle of interview to check in on what they were asking and what was missing, in order to help them identify implicit biases and blind spots. The experiment, however, turned out to be too complicated, felt forced, and didn’t create a good candidate experience. From that experience, she explained, her team learned that nudges requiring a lot of explanation were not likely to work at Cargill.

To that point, the most effective nudges are also aligned to the organization’s culture. Both panelists stressed the important of cultural alignment, finding that the differences between their approaches reflected the different organizational cultures of their companies. Cargill’s culture puts a lot of emphasis on leader role modeling, Whitney said, which means that nudges are most effective when leaders role model passion and accountability and use storytelling to create a compelling vision of the future. Amgen, Dziedzic added, uses its science-based culture, which emphasizes experimentation, data, and built-in accountability, to design nudges based on where data shows they are needed. In line with that culture, the most effective inclusion nudges at Amgen tend to be process-based and focused on building accountability into standardized ways of doing business.

How do you make nudges part of your D&I strategy?

Aligning nudges to your overall D&I strategy is another way to maximize their chances of success. To do that, Whitney advised, start by looking at your data; find out how diverse employees are faring in your hiring and promotion processes, and what they’re saying in engagement surveys. This will give you insight into where bias may be appearing in your organization and where an inclusion nudge might have the most impact. Managers want to make better decisions about hiring and talent in general, she noted, and nudges can influence actions and behavior toward better decision making, making the strategic value of these tools evident.

The panelists also advocated an agile approach to introducing nudges. Start with the easy wins: Identify areas leaders are most passionate about, or analyze your HR processes to figure out where nudges can be most easily embedded. Experiment, test, and don’t be afraid of failure as long as you learn from it. Another benefit of keeping nudges simple is that it can make them easier to scale, Dziedzic pointed out. The success of inclusion nudges can be self-reinforcing, Whitney added, as the process of looking out for bias together helps build cohesion and trust within a team.

Wrapping up Sunday’s discussion, Dziedzic and Whitney both stressed the importance of sharing success stories. D&I is a community, and it’s important for D&I professionals to collaborate in finding tactics and strategies that work. So if you find a nudge that works, they urged, share it with your peers!

(Readers can find out more about inclusion nudges and the community of practitioners using this technique at Gartner Diversity & Inclusion Leadership Council members can see some effective examples of process-based inclusion nudges in our Executive Training Materials on Advancing Inclusion by Overcoming Unconscious Bias.)