Rewiring human bias

In view of Cop 26 – Reflecting on another existential challenge to humanity

Diversity is the ‘what’; inclusion is the ‘how

It seems important, in any analysis of or attempts at inclusion, to understand this distinction. Diversity alone is not inclusion. You can have quotas that tick all the diversity boxes, but without a culture of inclusion, everyone stays in their respective box, as it gravitates towards similar boxes…

We had nothing in common

She wasn’t the right fit


All the above are common phrases and signal our need (in the English-speaking world at least) to belong, our need for both community and commonality, and this need has driven and still drives almost every human (and mammalian) endeavour.

In order to become more inclusive, we need to acknowledge that inclusivity is the most fundamental, and most needed shift in human behaviour, ever. It’s as big as climate change – in fact, it’s probably the answer to climate change.

Humans have built their world on the proviso of exclusivity – behind the castle walls, sharing food and safety, or outside, trying to get in. And so, we have fought, since time immemorial, to the death, for fear of letting down the drawbridge to the unknown, the wild, the outsider.

This primal, now digitalized human trait is holding us back – the urge to be one of a tribe of similar people – the need to get in and ‘fit in’.  For inclusion to truly happen, it’s essential to venture out as well as to welcome in – to explore uncommon as well as common ground without expecting or driving to similarity or even solidarity.

We all have to try to go against that gravitational pull of the similar, not only in accepting difference but in actively seeking it out and striving to maintain it. The difference is not the problem, it’s our primal fear of it that is. If we can’t face our fear, then we will either become a homogenized glob of humanity on an otherwise devasted earth or, we’ll break into more and more granular groups and anarchy will reign. And what about the middle ground? Let’s hope it exists..

How far do we have left to go?

We are only just beginning to understand the nature of the problem, let alone the solution.

Inclusion is still a brand differentiator. That’s surely not right. Inclusion should be brand hygiene….

The ad industry, to name but one, has a chance to act as an inclusion crucible, to make inclusion an irreversible reaction in society

Now, even as late in the game as 2021, brands are still trying on ‘diversity’ for size, whether it be gender, ethnicity, sexuality, physicality, neurology – and it shows –  we think, ‘Ah, they are trying that out, beating the diversity drum’. But inclusion is the ‘how” behind true diversity, the culture that should sit behind it, and it too often stops at quotas and billboards.

How do we get there?

This will take time, it’s entirely unnatural and unprecedented. It helps to have equal opportunities, bias training, accessible options, etc, but the shift needs to grow through society in both directions, everyone making the change, at their own level, in every aspect of their interaction with others, not the leaders and money-makers “investing” in it, dishing it out to boost pay per clicks.

Step 1. Agree to disagree

Here’s my suggestion – take inclusion to mean difference, the ultimate antidote to homogeneity/tribalism/group-think. And not only difference, but dissent, and using dissent as a constructive force. If people are included without having to slot into a pre-prescribed culture/side – then innovation, change, progress, evolution can happen…

This will involve a departure from both the primal urge and the digitalized pressures to conform and conflate our personal identity with that of the group. 

And so, for example, on the humble scale of the marketeer, trying to leave a cultural wake – he/she must acknowledge his/her ability to contribute to the problem as well as the cure. An agency should be made up of a diverse group of people who feel that they are paid to be themselves, rather than a diverse group of people chiselled to the same lines.

Step 2. Rewire the primal need for self-preservation, before it’s too late

The next decade, however successful COP 26 might be, will be beset by catastrophe, scale TBC. Building resilience – and by that I mean, empathy networks, wherever and whenever possible, is as urgent a need as the shift from carbon. Without this empathetic resilience, these ‘empathy networks’, when the going gets tough, the necessary partnerships between peoples, classes, countries, will disintegrate, and in turn disrupt our climate protection efforts.

Derrick Bell, in his science fiction novel ‘Space Traders’, hypothesizes about what a post-civil rights, equal, America would do when aliens asked, in return for restoring Earth back to American control, if they could have all the Black Americans. Guess what?
Without hesitation, all the Black Americans found themselves marshalled into an alien mothership. Again.
It’s always tempting, as with climate change, to see inclusion as a decision, something that happens in one direction, at one moment in time – managers to staff, leaders to subjects, corporations to customers, preachers to congregations, with a clear hierarchy of responsibility – but ultimately, anything that ultimately affects everyone needs to involve everyone, and keep involving everyone.

Step 3. Irreversible reaction

We need to get to a place where life and work are so inclusive in their nature, that the reaction cannot be reversed, under any conditions.

Has this happened before? No. This is not something humans have ever done before, this is beyond equal rights arguments, this is at a more fundamental, cognitive level, and maybe the biggest leap in the evolution of the global human brain we’ve yet seen. Yes, we’ve evolved to collaborate and trade with outsiders, but this has always, at least in the dominant cultures,  been on the premise of trade and ownership, and hierarchy – ‘this is ours’ and ‘that is yours’ ‘our people’ and ‘your people’. That worked, to secure human dominance, up to a point, but now it is degrading our lives and spilling over to the planet.

Communism, religion, capitalism, even, promised to eradicate such damaging intra-human barriers but found that new ones superseded them, despite or because of our inherent gravitation towards hierarchy, tribalism, or whatever you choose to name this urge we have to come in from the cold – when we know the warmth is finite. 

Towards inclusive actions and reactions

·  Make more of an effort to accommodate and explore disagreement

·  Go beyond caring about how diverse something looks

·  Focus on how included everyone feels i.e

Spend as much time thinking about empathy as we do about bias

Hoping to write more on empathy vs bias soon…