My blog is no stranger to discussing the role of boards of directors in DEI, including the specifics of how they can facilitate diversity, equity, and inclusion. Today, I want to hone in on a more specific topic: what biases are most likely to appear during meetings of boards of directors? After all, board members are as susceptible to unconscious bias as the rest of us! Let’s walk through five of the most common:
1. Confirmation Bias:
This bias occurs when people only seek out and interpret information that confirms their existing beliefs. As such, in board meetings, confirmation bias manifests in the failure to consider alternate viewpoints and options. Let’s consider the following hypothetical!
So, how can boards address this bias? In simplest terms: don’t be afraid to push against the status quo. Boards should actively bring in a variety of perspectives and ask questions that may counter their personal feelings, as doing so encourages us to consider new modes of thinking, even if we ultimately disagree.
2. Availability Bias:
This bias occurs when people rely too heavily on information that is readily available to them, i.e. they don’t seek out more diverse or comprehensive sources of information. In board meetings, this overreliance can lead to overlooking important data or perspectives that are not immediately at hand. Although availability bias has a marked similarity to confirmation bias, the key difference is that confirmation bias involves seeking information/answers that support a preexisting opinion, while availability bias is simply limiting oneself to already available information. In other words, while these two biases often overlap and reinforce each other, they are not the same. Much like conformity bias, then, availability bias is best addressed by simply inviting in additional perspectives!
3. Anchoring Bias:
This bias occurs when people rely too heavily on the first piece of information they receive, using it as a reference point for all subsequent decisions. In board meetings, this overemphasis on a singular piece of information can lead to unnecessary prioritization of early proposals or suggestions rather than the exploration of a broader range of possibilities. Anchoring bias can be tricky to counter, as our brains tend to naturally hierarchize and frame knowledge with regard to a starting point, which is why we must make an intentional effort to challenge our reliance on early information.
4. Halo Effect:
As beautiful as this term might sound, the halo effect itself is not so lovely! This bias occurs when people allow one positive trait or characteristic to overshadow other aspects of a person’s performance or contribution. In board meetings, this inflation of goodness can lead to an overemphasis on the opinions or perspectives of certain individuals, where the possibility of considering a more diverse range of viewpoints goes overlooked. We address the Halo Effect is by questioning our perception of others and how that influences how we view their performance.
Last but not least, this bias occurs when people in a group prioritize consensus and harmony over critical thinking and independent decision-making. In other words, in board meetings, groupthink can lead to a reluctance to challenge the status quo or express dissenting opinions. The consequence? A limited range of options are considered, which may lead to suboptimal decisions. To address groupthink, there must be a willingness to take a step back and a refusal to conform to the status quo.
There we have it! Five biases that often manifest in boards of directors’ meetings and how these biases can be addressed. Seeing as the boardroom is where some of the most important organizational decisions are made, it is also one of the most important places to challenge our biases. I tip my hat to all board members who are making an intentional effort to combat their unconscious biases in order to foster a working environment that is more inclusive for all!
Dima Ghawi is the founder of a global talent development company with a primary mission for advancing individuals in leadership. Through keynote speeches, training programs and executive coaching, Dima has empowered thousands of professionals across the globe to expand their leadership potential. In addition, she provides guidance to business executives to develop diversity, equity, and inclusion strategies and to implement a multi-year plan for advancing quality leaders from within the organization.