Small Behaviors – A Big Difference to Inclusion
Every forward-thinking organization now understands that diversity and inclusion are both vitally important. Not only is it the right thing to do, research has shown that it will also bring key business benefits.
Importantly, it’s the combination of diversity and inclusion that is important.
As well as looking into ways of increasing diversity in an organization, there also needs to be a focus on making sure that the working environment is inclusive. I.e. that people feel that they can fully contribute and be themselves at work. This combination of high diversity and high inclusion has the potential to help businesses gain significant competitive advantage, including better decision-making, higher productivity and less absenteeism.
However, something that’s often overlooked is the impact – both positive and negative – that the smallest individual behaviors can have on inclusion.
Micro-behaviors were first researched by Psychologist Mary Rowe at MIT in the early 1970s. She focused on negative micro-behaviors, termed “micro-inequities”, and described them as “apparently small events… which are covert, often unintentional, frequently unrecognized by the perpetrator, which occur wherever people are perceived to be “different.”
Imagine being in a meeting where you notice someone subtly rolling their eyes whenever you start to speak. Or where you’re interrupted before you’ve finished making your point. Or even, where a contribution that you make to the meeting isn’t even acknowledged and where your name is repeatedly mispronounced.
These are all examples of micro-inequities. The theory is that these negative behaviors are often driven by our unconscious biases, so we will display them more when interacting with someone in our out-group, i.e. with someone who is different to us.
Each one of us is transmitting between 40 and 120 of these micro-messages every 10 minutes, so you can understand the potential impact on individuals in minority groups of being on the receiving end of a barrage of these negative micro-messages. Being interrupted once in a meeting could be brushed off, being interrupted repeatedly in multiple meetings is going to get anyone down.
The good news is that the flipside also exists – these are positive micro-behaviors, also called micro-affirmations. Smiling at someone, taking time to acknowledge the point they have made in a meeting (whether you agree with it or not), recognizing achievements – all of these small acts of inclusion can add up to making someone feel more included in a team and in an organization. And a feeling of inclusion can in turn lead to higher engagement, productivity and motivation.
So, what can leaders and organizations do to increase the number of positive micro-messages and decrease the micro-inequities? Here’s some ideas of steps to take:
- Train employees around unconscious bias and micro-behaviors – increase awareness of what unconscious bias is and the impact that it can have on our behavior, even at this micro level
- Encourage everyone to find out what their own unconscious biases are. The most widely used unconscious bias test is the Harvard Implicit Association Test (IAT) produced by Harvard University. This is available on-line for everyone to use for free.
- Give leaders and managers examples of how they can increase positive affirmations. What can they personally do and say to create a feeling of inclusion in others?
- Encourage a feedback culture where individuals can give feedback on how it feels to be on the receiving end of micro-behaviors – what language can people use to call these out?