Affinity Bias is Discrimination-an argument for Diversity Equity and Inclusion

Its such a warm and comfortable feeling to meet someone on the job that we click with; someone who attended the same college we attended, someone who grew up in the same small city that we grew up in, someone who has the same style in clothing as we do or some one who belongs a specific group that we belong. Clicking with someone similar is fine; however when an employer leans toward hiring based on similar qualities “clicking” becomes problematic; often times excluding someone form the table who very well may deserve to be at the table.

In the 1990’s I worked for a nonprofit in San Francisco as a case manager. After being with the organization for three years, I decided to apply for a management position that had become available. I expressed my desires to my manager, and he encouraged me to go forward with the process. After submitting my resume, I was interviewed by the director of the program several weeks later. Within 7 days of my interview it was announced in a staff meeting that the position had been given to one of my white gay coworkers (Jeff), who also happened to be good friends with the white gay executive director of the program.

Within that same week, I had a talk with a friend who was a manager and he shared with me that Jeff had not submitted a resume, nor had he been interviewed for the position. Jeff was simply given the position. I was irate. Jeff had most definitely received preferential treatment. This was affinity bias at its best. I considered contacting the EEOC, but decided against it for some strange reason, that I do not recall. I gave thought to writing the board, but again I decided to let it go, for some apparent reason I do not recall. Instead of doing something about the injustice I just sat in it and became more and more resentful. Weeks passed and I became more and more discontent with working for the agency. I lost respect for management and my engagement and performance at the job declined drastically. I did not feel valued as an employee; nor did I feel as if my employer had any interest in my professional development. I voluntarily left the agency within 6 months of that incident.

Another White face in management, no diversity there. Another Black woman excluded, no inclusion there. The different application and interviewing processes that Jeff and I went through was unfair, no equity in that. I am gay but my gayness alone was not similar enough for the executive director. I am also a black woman from East Oakland and they were both white gay men from affluence. Our lifestyles and values are very different. And to that end evidence suggests people tend to hire and promote people with whom they share things in common. This is affinity bias, an unconscious bias toward those who share similar values. This is discrimination, which at its center is exclusionary.

Demographics in the workplace have drastically changed in the past 20 years and continue to change. However, changes as they relate to diversity, equity and inclusion have not been significant. In 2017 Fortune published an article and this is what was revealed about fortune 500 diversity;

• C-suites and boardrooms of Fortune 500 companies are overwhelmingly White and male.

• Only 3% of Fortune 500 companies released complete data for the race and gender of their employees in each job category and management level.

• Only twelve Fortune 500 companies made the 2016 50 Best Workplaces for Diversity list; none on the list have fully disclosed their EEO-1 data.

• Only one in five companies provided information to show that they measure progress toward achieving diversity.

The benefits of a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace are indisputable. The more diverse a group, the more creative and innovative the group will be. A diverse group is better at problem-solving and decision making. Organizations with robust diversity equity and inclusion programs report increases in profits, higher employee engagement and better reputations. Having a diverse organization also benefits a company’s recruitment efforts. In a survey by Price WaterHouse Coopers more than 80% of the participants stated that an employer’s diversity equity and inclusion policy on was an important factor when deciding whether to work for them.

My hope is that Human Resources Departments will start talking about their current hiring practices and taking a good look at why they are failing to create robust diverse equitable and inclusive workforces. Being willing to be transparent and self-aware is the first step and it is key. We need to own up to having biases, before we can address them. The next essential step is making real moves to change/remove any practices that that fail to promote diversity equity and inclusion by implement policies and practices that ensure biases do not impede on strides towards an inclusive workplace.

Workplace DEI is not a politically correct fad; it’s the right thing to do. My hope is that more organizations will move forward in the creation of policies and procedures rooted in creating sustainable cultural changes that will foster diversity, equity and inclusion. My hope is that more CEOs will take the lead in creating strategic plans that will embrace, encourage and foster diversity, equity and inclusivity in their organizations .My hope is that more CEOs will come to fully understand and appreciate, not just the business case for DEI, but also the morality case. Its really the right thing to do.

Gay African American female with a serious interest in diversity equity and inclusion. I am also an affordable housing advocate and an employment strategist.