Why corporate diversity programs fail—and how small tweaks can have a big impact

14 min Source: TED Talk
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A team of researchers has found there are five patterns related to organisational bias.


In this TED Talk, law professor Joan C. Williams argues that to address structural racism, you need to change structures. She believes that if organisations want to tackle diversity effectively, they need to use the same tools businesses use to tackle any business problem—evidence and metrics. For more than a decade, Williams and her team have studied how bias plays out in everyday workplace interactions. They found that the same five patterns of bias emerge over and over again:

This pattern they call 'prove it again'. Some groups have to prove themselves more than others. Bias can be triggered by race, gender, age, disability, LGBTQ status, even social class.

The second pattern is called 'the tightrope' and reflects that women may be seen as abrasive if they're authoritative, and people of colour who behave assertively are often written off as angry.

The next pattern is called the 'tug-of-war' and reflects the fact that sometimes bias against a group can fuel conflict. For example, if there's room for only one woman or a person of colour, those groups will probably compete with each other.

The fourth pattern of bias is the most potent form of gender bias called 'the maternal wall'. It reflects assumptions that mothers aren't committed and may be seen as bad mothers for returning to work. 

The final pattern consists of racial stereotypes.

Williams says the solution is to use what she calls 'bias interrupters'— evidence-based and metrics-driven tools. She claims that small tweaks can have significant effects—transcript available here.