The six habit building phases of The Inclusion Habit (R) 1) inclusion matters - install a belief that new habit has benefit 2) recognize bias - provide tools to identify and measure bias 3) transform mindset - redirect defensive effort to positive change 4) think slowly - practice aligning actions with values and intentions 5) change intuition - reprogram systematic errors/overwrite biases 6) enhance empathy - hone inclusivity of unseen diversity (copyright The Inclusion Habit LLC)

The Next DEI Frontier: Behavior Change

02/09/2023
By Amanda J. Felkey, PhD

The benefits of fostering diverse organizations have been scientifically proven, and HR leaders all over the world are working to build inclusive cultures so that they can hire and retain diverse talent. Unfortunately, the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training that they bring to their organizations currently appears to be minimally effective.

Typical DEI training makes everyone aware of bias and eager to be inclusive but, problematically, does not equip participants with the tools to do so. One Fortune 100 Chief Diversity Officer once told me he felt that DEI training left his employees in a very scary space. “They know they have bias and are excluding people, but they don’t know how to change that,” he said.

The first likely problem with this programming is that it generally does not accommodate how we learn and retain information. Hermann Ebbinghaus’s famous forgetting curve demonstrates that the effects of mass communication of persuasive ideas rapidly decay (see Figure 1). The red line illustrates that we forget almost all of what we are told if we are exposed to ideas only once.

The green lines illustrate that reengagement with the ideas can mitigate our forgetting. Recollection is even more robust and accurate when we “see or do” than when we simply hear. Remember the Chinese proverb: “Tell me, and I’ll forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I’ll understand.”

A second problem with current programming is that the way our brains work thwarts our DEI efforts. We all have unconscious biases that creep into our actions and behaviors when we are performing difficult tasks, multitasking, or facing time constraints. Our brains categorize information to make our reactions more efficient, but this leads to erroneous stereotypes and generalizations.

Finally, awareness of DEI issues does not automatically lead to behavior change. Behavioral-economics models demonstrate how time-inconsistent preferences stand in the way of making good decisions and of changing behavior. We have the tendency to put off onerous tasks and to impulsively do things we enjoy, even if they are not in our best interest. For example, we decide to start our gym routine tomorrow or to eat a hamburger when we are hungry, despite our goal of losing ten pounds.

So What Should Organizations Do?

Research shows that workers prioritize DEI but are becoming tired of simply talking about it. They are frustrated that programming does not generate meaningful action or create sustainable change. To positively transform behavior, organizations must commit to change at both the leadership and individual levels. Workshops and programs can help them learn to understand and recognize bias, but this learning must be reinforced over time. Furthermore, individuals must have time to reprogram their incorrect intuitions and to transform mindsets based in unconscious bias.

To do this, we need to slow down our thinking and to make deliberate decisions that are in line with our intentions and values. We must take time to evaluate people and situations individually, to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, and to empathize with their position.

This effort requires practice and repetition. Cutting edge behavior-change science and habit-formation research show that small changes repeated over time can successfully create new thought patterns and behaviors.

One way to accomplish this is to deliver daily reminders to employees, encouraging them to complete a short task. Through small activities, participants will foster habits of understanding. This is precisely what The Inclusion Habit® is designed to do.

The six habit building phases of The Inclusion Habit (R) 1) inclusion matters - install a belief that new habit has benefit 2) recognize bias - provide tools to identify and measure bias 3) transform mindset - redirect defensive effort to positive change 4) think slowly - practice aligning actions with values and intentions 5) change intuition - reprogram systematic errors/overwrite biases 6) enhance empathy - hone inclusivity of unseen diversity (copyright The Inclusion Habit LLC)

DEI Behavior Change Solution

The Inclusion Habit® is a three-month program designed to cultivate more inclusive behaviors through daily micro-commitments. These small, daily activities help reinforce what participants have already learned, mitigate biases, foster understanding, and enhance empathy. The program also includes a social-media feed in which participants can track their progress and share stories and accomplishments with each other. This element builds a sense of community and social accountability that bolsters behavioral change.

The micro-commitments in each of the six habit-building phases employ evidence and methods on the frontiers of research in economics and psychology. These microcommitments create a kinetic and emotional experience, rather than the passive, logical experience of most DEI trainings, and so they bolster the modification of behavior and the creation of new habits of understanding, empathy, and inclusion. Given how individuals retain information, the daily micro-commitments take individuals beyond the limits of typical DEI programming.

Evidence of Effectiveness

A Fortune 100 financial services firm employed The Inclusion Habit® to support their DEI initiatives. After following the program for just over two months, they reported: 77% enrollment, 1,246 micro-commitments made with a 92% completion rate, and 159 reflective stories by 35 storytellers. Using pre- and post-surveys, participants self-reported 90% more inclusive behavior, 46% change in interactions, 35% improved mindfulness, 27% greater sense of community, 24% enhanced connection, and 14% change in perceptions.

Although traditional inclusion programs raise awareness, their actual effect is minimal. Such programming offers limited returns and false confidence. Only by moving beyond such an approach can organizations and institutions truly make meaningful strides toward a genuinely inclusive environment. Learn more about The Inclusion Habit® at https://awis.org/increase-inclusive-behaviors.

 

Dr. Amanda J. Felkey earned a PhD in Behavioral Economics from Cornell University and DE&I Certificates from eCornell and Northwestern University. Her behavior-change frameworks have been used by universities and corporations to elicit positive personal change, create habits enhancing individual wellbeing and make workplaces more inclusive. Dr. Felkey is an Economics Professor at Lake Forest College.