Studies and reports by different researchers conclude that biases, built on stereotypes and prejudices, have a cultural and social nature and create an obstacle in people’s personal and career choices. In our collective imagination, the prototype of the STEM-world professional is a man, very professional, geeky, without much of a social life, introverted in nature... These stereotypes are reinforced by television shows… When we make choices, we project ourselves into the future and visualise what we will be like in that situation. If there is a correlation between our perception of our own image and the prototypical image, we tend to consider choosing the latter.
Northwester University run a research in schools about this specific topic. They asked students in a school to draw a scientist. Between the ages of 5 and 6, the percentage of men and women drawn is the same, as is the same among boys and girls. From 7-8 years old onward, the balance is disrupted and more men begin to appear as scientists. From the ages of 14-15 one woman appears for every four men. The tendency to draw scientists in white robes and glasses also increases with age, suggesting that stereotypes, especially about scientific activity, are acquired as we grow older.
Biases occur because our brain uses shortcuts to better process information and they are reinforced by social standardisation. We often assume that a determinate kind of people would be a success because these people seem to fit into our mental models of the “world dominant group”.
The brain uses mental shortcuts to reduce uncertainty and fill in information to produce decisions or judgements. We receive 11 million pieces of information at any time. All these information pieces are processed and filtered through our perceptions, interpretations, preferences and selective attention. We absorb 40-50 pieces of information.
This filtering process causes cognitive biases, an error in thinking, in the sense that a judgement deviates from what would be considered desirable or correct. In the case of stereotypes for example, one assumes that a stereotype is true for each individual person in the category.
There are more than 200 heuristics and cognitive biases that have been studied. Buster Beston, performs the following classification based on heuristics and cognitive biases usefulness. There are 4 situations that our brain tries to solve through them:
- When too much information exists. Our brain helps us filter out information that it believes will be most useful to us.
- When we do not know how to give meaning to what surrounds us. We only get one piece of information, and we need to understand it. We fill in the gaps with things we know and we update our mental models.
- When we need to act fast. We are limited by time and information and we cannot get paralysed. This is a primary response. We have to remember that the ability to act quickly in the face of uncertainty allows us to survive as species.
- When we should select what to remember. We can only afford to remember the bits of information that are likely to be useful to us in the future.This explanation helps us to understand when the brain uses heuristics, but it is important as well to understand the how in order to identify our own filters and to be in control of them.
Columbia University conducted a research with 28 people who completed a series of three tasks while in a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) machine. They provided insight into how people are biased by past experiences to make new decisions. Networks of associations in memory, formed across many different experiences, can result in the formation of perceived ideas and stereotypes.
We analyse our world by putting our observations through a number of filters manufactured by our experiences. A very simple example: I have a stimulus (someone gives me a pink towel), this stimulus provokes a cognition (pink is a girls’ colour because baby girls historically wear in pink), the cognition provokes an emotion (I hate pink) and this emotion a behavioural response (I do not use pink towels). We often think we are consciously in control of our thoughts and behaviour, but sometimes our unconscious thoughts are in control of us.
It is important to consider that differing cognitive styles can lead to different interpretations of situations and affect how we behave.Each person has their own individual characteristics and different cognitive styles. This is called Neurodiversity.
Neurodiversity refers to the different ways the brain can work and interpret information. It highlights that people naturally think about things differently. We have different interests and motivations, and are naturally better at some things and poorer at others. It is important to know how we work and process information, in order to be able to collaborate and work together adapting to each other’s needs. Because we are all different and we are all unique.
Research in molecular neurosience shows that the mechanisms of neurogenesis that generate neuronal diversity are based on the three basic principles: different modes of neural stem cell division, spatial patterning of the neurogenic region and temporal transitions of neural stem cell competence. This information provides a better comprehension of human adult neurogenesis and how our experiences impact in our way to process information.Recent psychometric research aligns with this concept, and shows that it is important to consider that psychological assessments will never be effective with a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, psychometrics must be culturally appropriate and adapted to dimensions of diversity and individual differences. We now find ourselves in an era where understanding that we are all different and unique can have a huge impact on professional and business success, but also happiness and quality of life.
To integrate this mind-set into our organisation, at NTT DATA we consider Loden's Wheel. Loden suggests ways we can break down personal characteristics to discover what defines each individual, and thus what elements might form barriers in relationships. She explores the primary and secondary dimensions that form our social identities.Primary dimensions of diversity shape an individual's values, self-image/identity, opportunities and perceptions of others.
Secondary dimensions consider elements that affect others. Each one defines an individual's social identity.We have to be aware of our own stereotypes and unconscious biases in order to manage them effectively. A lack of understanding around neurodiversity causes misperceptions and can cause conflicts when ignored, devalued or misunderstood by others.
If we are aware of our own biases and we think on neurodiversity, we are going to start to proactively set up what we can do personally and what can be done universally to support others and to communicate our needs. Instead of labelling people around us, we should treat each one as a unique human being, identifying and implementing appropriate adjustments for each of our colleagues to better meet their needs, as well as ask for the things we need to be the best version of ourselves.
At NTT DATA we valuate each individual as a unique person. We work from a tailored approach to understand how each of us work and process information in order to be able to collaborate and work together adapting to each people needs. We believe that we are all different and we are all unique. Our uniqueness is our greatness.That is the best way to help people flourish and that is the way to success as individuals, as a company and as a society.