It takes less than a second to wreck this HR initiative

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Major HR initiatives take months – even years – to establish successfully so could they really come unravelled in just a few seconds? According to one industry expert, it might not even take that long.

“While we measure the impact of diversity and inclusion initiatives in months and years, they can be undone in the blink of an eye because it takes 50 milliseconds to register someone’s gender when we first see them and only twice that long to note their racial background,” reveals diversity manager Fezeela Raza.

“Once these are registered we immediately retreat to basic evolutionary principles based on tribalism and we make snap decisions about people and we decide whether they are part of our in-group, and therefore preferred, or part of the out-group and therefore seen as threatening,” she told HRM.

According to Raza, an industry veteran with 20 years’ experience in the field, the part of the brain that primarily controls this response is the amygdala – a more primitive area, often described as quick to learn and slow to forget.

“If your pre-frontal cortex fails to regulate your thoughts, you end up relying on these unconscious biases which serve as mental shortcuts – for example, regarding your outgroups as stereotypes, not individuals,” she explains.

Raza currently works with national membership organisation Diversity Works to help businesses develop diverse and inclusive workplaces – she says there are certain situations employers need to be aware of that could potentially reduce the risk of subconscious bias.

“In times of stress, under time pressures or when we are tired and hungry we are more prone to make decisions based on unconscious biases because we don’t have the energy to put the effort into more robust thinking,” she told HRM.

“There is a lot of evidence to demonstrate this happens in all types of people because we are all born with a propensity to do this,” she added.

David Amodio, associate professor of psychology and neural science at New York University, showed that racial stereotypes can be activated in most people particularly during times of stress.

“While this kind of thinking had real survival value historically, in the current complex world we live in it does not serve us as well and it can undermine our work in diversity and inclusion,” added Raza.
 
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