(A 5-part series on Cognitive Biases that Waste Talent)
Naomi hangs up from the video call with her boss, Frank, wishing there was a way to storm out of the virtual meeting room. Once again, Frank is assigning a new high-profile project to another “mini-Frank.” Frank is a tall, clean-cut white man who is very outgoing. Except for Naomi, the rest of Frank’s team looks and acts like Frank. Naomi is pretty sure that, as a woman of color, she was brought on the team to fulfill some diversity quota. She doesn’t feel like she is a part of the team and she certainly doesn’t feel like her potential is being recognized or utilized. The triple whammy is that she is also quiet—so she neither looks nor acts like Frank or his other hires.
Naomi’s frustration is not uncommon. People—and not just Frank—can fall into the trap of being more comfortable with people who look and act like they do. This is called “similarity bias,” and often shows up in the hiring process. Isn’t it usually easier to quickly connect with someone who is like you? Acting on this bias is the easiest way to move forward, but definitely not the best. In McKinsey & Company’s updated research on the impacts of diversity (“Delivering Through Diversity”), McKinsey confirmed that “the statistically significant correlation between a more diverse leadership team and financial outperformance. . .continues to hold true on an updated, enlarged, and global data set.”
True, Naomi is not on the leadership team. What will happen, however, if she is never given the stretch opportunities that the mini-Franks have been given? She will never enter that succession pipeline that feeds into the leadership team and the lack of diversity at senior levels will continue.
Similarity bias is just one of the cognitive biases that waste talent in organizations. To make sure you see all five parts of this series, you can connect with me on LinkedIn, or sign up for my newsletter, where I provide links to my articles and blog posts.
About the Author
Lorraine McCamley is the owner of Boldly Quiet Consulting and the author of the book Boldly Quiet: The Introvert’s Guide to Developing the Mindset of a Successful Leader. She spent years as an executive in the corporate world feeling that being an introvert was something to be ashamed of or fixed. She now coaches quiet professionals, helping them understand and embrace who they are so they can authentically and effectively lead others. Lorraine is a Gallup-Certified Strengths Coach and holds a master’s degree in Organizational Dynamics from the University of Pennsylvania