“Fitting in” and “adding to” the workplace culture are not mutually exclusive criteria for selecting who to hire, promote, or choose to work with on a project. They are often treated as opposites, though, when talking about affinity bias. “Call out” your bias and “make a different choice instead” is often the message, but even if it does result in a more diverse choice, this mentality could create inclusion issues down the road.
We tend to prefer or choose people like us to be around. This implicit, cognitive bias which causes us to be more comfortable around people like us is called the affinity bias. In the workplace, this bias is problematic if we are overlooking candidates for hires or promotions that might be equally or even more qualified because we see differences that make us uncomfortable. More subtly, we may simply be choosing candidates we feel more comfortable with because we share things in common. We know that diversity is good for business, but how do we overcome this tendency of being more comfortable around people like us? It’s not by telling people to act against their bias, but by focusing on the commonalities they might have with diverse candidates.
Have you ever found a kindred spirit in an unexpected person? If so, you probably didn’t start out thinking, “hey, this person is different so let me learn all about our differences because that’s valuable!” You probably had something in common from the start, which made you comfortable discovering each other’s differences and even more similarities. Let’s focus on what we can connect on first, and that will open the doors to appreciating and gaining from our diversity. This is more a shift in mentality than in action, but it could make the difference, all the same.