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Diversity + Inclusion


  • Sylvia Apostolidis

Evidence Based Inclusion and the Promise of Behavioural Design

Updated: Mar 25, 2021

The topic of workplace diversity and inclusion has never been as important as it is today. And rightly so. As we rapidly transition to an innovation economy with increasingly complex tasks, we need the power of high-functioning, diverse teams. Why? Because they outperform homogenous teams.

Inclusive, well-functioning teams are essential, and diversity — cognitive and identity — is a must-have survival strategy. Yet, the representation of women and minorities has stagnated across senior leadership levels. Companies are missing out on the benefits that come from diverse-thinking teams, and this holds enormous risk.

Companies continue to throw time and resources at traditional approaches that yield little.

We cannot continue to expect gains by doing the same thing. The solution is not to “fix the women” or “change the men.” Nor is it to view diversity + inclusion as a largely programmatic initiative and a “nice to have” led by HR. We need to go beyond spinning our wheels on cookie-cutter best practices and diversity-awareness training in hopes of changing mindsets, values or behaviour. It’s simply not working, and often leads to backlash and more biased behaviour.

Let’s face it: The status quo is much more comfortable than change.

Achieving a diverse and inclusive workplace is a “wicked” problem – defined as a social or cultural challenge difficult to solve, deeply interconnected with other complex social issues and wrought with systemic and individual biases. It’s no wonder we’ve made such slow progress. Humans shy away from overly complex, ambiguous problems, especially when they feel personally threatened. We would much rather resist the change and find comfort in the status quo of societal norms and expectations ingrained since birth.

The world has changed, leaving behind those that do not effectively adapt.

Global movements such as #MeToo, climate strikes, and #BlackLivesMatter are fiercely challenging power imbalances and demanding action. Organizations can no longer ignore these forces, but they are stumped on how to change.

The question is, “What works?”

Change is hard. But, we can make it easier. How? Leverage behavioural insights and take an evidence-based approach to inclusion.

Simply put, behavioural science makes diversity work better.

Your culture is what people do, not what they know or think. Current approaches to diversity and inclusion appeal to our rationality, aiming to change beliefs in hopes of more inclusive actions. But, we don’t think our way into a new way of acting. Instead, we act our way into a new way of thinking. Behavioural science is the study of human behaviour, decision-making and motivation. Tapping into this toolbox is a powerful solution to make faster progress towards diverse and inclusive workplaces.

How can we expect to change behaviour, if we don’t bring an understanding of how people truly behave to our solutions?

The Promise of Behavioural Design:

Becoming more popular over the last decade, the use of behavioural science for worldwide challenges accelerated since Richard Thaler, the University of Chicago professor and author of the best-selling book Nudge, won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2017. Some of the most challenging social problems are being solved through a behavioural lens. For example, people are helping citizens make healthier food choices, decrease littering, conserve energy, and save more for retirement. By using the science of human behaviour, decision making, and the brain, we can reduce bias in talent systems and better engage people to build belonging, culture, and performance.

It’s time to make it easier to be inclusive.

Jasmar’s Approach to Inclusion

Follow the evidence. Use insights about human behaviour to strengthen decisions, motivate and engage. Design processes to interrupt unconscious biases (we all have them)! These are some elements we use to help companies develop and embed an inclusion strategy that works:

Make Inclusive Decisions with Evidence-Based Management

Our solutions are rooted in scientific evidence

It’s much faster to act on instinct and assumption, but these are more susceptible to errors. It’s easy to be a copycat and adopt a “best practice” without acknowledging how unique your company’s environment really is. Instead, making your inclusion decisions relying on the highest quality evidence will reduce the margin of error and lead to predicted and expected results. By listening to your employees’ concerns, informing decisions with your organization’s data, consulting relevant scientific studies, and gathering professional expertise, better decisions are made. Evidence-based management challenges our assumptions, and prevents damaging employees’ experience from the backtracking and division caused with outdated approaches to inclusion.

Fix the System, not the People

Systems-integrated and business aligned solutions

Lean in. Smile more. Be more confident. This is what we tell underrepresented groups at work so they can “fit in”. But these folks already have value; we shouldn’t be molding them into a homogenous group which will eventually dilute the valuable diverse experiences, thoughts, and ideas that they can apport. Instead, we need to interrupt bias and barriers in the system, redesign processes, align talent management with business priorities, and embed belonging in everything we do.

Elevate Talent: Re-define Leadership

Diversity increases when we build and reward good leaders

When inclusion and diversity calls for more representation, people claim there’s a diversity-performance trade-off. This point of view argues that by shifting the focus towards adding diversity, companies will consequently lower their standards. But that assumption is flawed. We don’t need to lower the bar to create more diverse and inclusive workplaces. In fact, we need to raise it! When we identify and embed the right leadership competencies, we not only achieve higher team performance, we will see more women and people from non-majority groups rise to the top.

Being Human-Centred Means Satisfying Everyone’s Basic Needs

Meeting employees BAM needs (Belonging, Autonomy, Mastery)

Today, most companies will tell you they are human-centric. They say they put their customers first, their employees first, and their users first. But beyond an internal memo or a brand promise, being human-centric means putting our most human, basic psychological needs first. Our human needs are so powerful, they are like a comic book punch: BAM!

- Belonging is our core need to feel accepted into our social groups.

- Autonomy is our core need to have choice and control.

- Mastery is our core need to be challenged and show that we’re competent.

These needs are the psychological equivalent of food, water, and sleep. The Jasmar Group helps companies embed these psychological needs at every stage of the talent cycle and in every team interaction. Does your job posting communicate belonging? Do managers give feedback that supports employee autonomy? Do people feel safe to share their opinions? A BAM lens to inclusion acts as a powerful guidepost for sustained change.

Think Small and Make a Big Impact

Small wins are the building blocks for meaningful change

It seems counterintuitive to think small. Don’t we want grand gestures, ambitious strategies, and stretch targets? Those are nice, but if they’re too far in the distance or too complex to implement, are less likely to reach them. Instead, fuel motivation and make faster progress towards inclusion by thinking small and acting small. In a race between the tortoise (small actions) and the hare (grand gestures), the tortoise wins.

Design Behavioural Nudges

Behavioural science offers us a promising approach by leveraging the study of human behaviour to prompt – or nudge – people towards more inclusive actions. The Jasmar Group does just this. Using our B.E.S.T. framework we identify critical decision points in talent processes and then apply behavioural insights to override biases and motivate people into action. For example, hanging photos of women leaders on the walls during talent calibration meetings has been shown to increase the number of women being promoted. Small, cost-effective, behavioural changes can solve some of D+I’s stickiest problems.

Habit Mastery leads to Culture Mastery

Evidence suggests that helping people build habits is the most effective way to make individual behaviour change stick. Habits are fast and powerful associations we make by practicing the same behaviours over and over. By practicing tiny habits every day, we can make sustainable change happen. (Ask us about Jasmar’s Belonging Engine)!

Focus on Where Work Gets Done: In Teams

Psychologically safe teams drive a culture shift from the middle out

Across industries, countries, and company sizes, most work is done in teams. What employees experience in their teams affects their work, their relationships, and their comfort to speak up. Instead of trying to change culture from the top down (through senior leadership) or from the bottom up (through individual people out of context), build an inclusive, speak-up culture from the middle out (through work teams). This team-based approach builds shared ownership and inclusive habits that support each other’s BAM (belonging, autonomy, mastery), creating momentum across the organization and amplifying everyone’s voice6.

Diversity and Inclusion for everyone, by everyone.

Building connections across difference

In any change effort, we must pay attention to all stakeholders. Unfortunately, diversity and inclusion efforts have unintentionally created more division than unity. ERGs feel exclusionary and representation targets without effective communication can create resentment. The Jasmar Group’s approach avoids these pitfalls through leader-led conversations and a design thinking methodology that engages employees in solutions, resulting in more engagement, shared ownership and stronger relationships across difference.

In Summary

Building inclusive workplaces is a complex, challenging problem that needs bold thinking and commitment to using an innovative approach.

The time is now. Organizations cannot wait any longer. Let’s turn the status quo on its head and use new approaches to make faster progress towards inclusion. There is no simple answer to this problem, but we can all use innovative tools like evidence-based inclusion and behavioural design to create and sustain real change.

Let’s Make Inclusion Stick!


The Jasmar Group is a behaviour change consultancy that helps organizations build team belonging, culture, and performance. Our solutions are evidence-based and designed to drive faster progress towards diverse and inclusive workplaces.


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Interested in a new approach to building a diverse and inclusive workplace? Contact Sylvia Apostolidis, President of The Jasmar Group at or 416-262-2779.


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