As a fact, in the US listed companies, about 15 board members out of 100 are women.
As another fact, the US has historically rewarded merit and competencies more than many other countries.
How can then happen that in selecting people, one of life’s most crucial choices, we are so biased as to unconsciously neglect merit and competencies?
Breaking the impasse is possible, if we try to tweak some consequences of two unconscious biases through a little nudge.
Similarity bias happens when we select people that are more similar to us, as opposed to people who appear more different. Evolution has fostered this trait, as a key manner to survive ever since the difficult times when we would live in the savannah, trying to escape from animals and all sorts of dangers.
We have the wrong brain and the wrong education. When making people decisions, we fall pray into a series of unconscious psychological biases, such as surrounding ourselves with similar people with whom we feel naturally comfortable. Many of these biases were very effective for our primitive ancestors, but they are no longer useful for building great teams which require complementary and highly sophisticated skills.
Claudio Fernández-Aráoz, Author of Great PeopleDecisions, 2007
A “similarity bias” results when individuals are more likely to imitate cultural models that are perceived as being similar to the individual, based on specific traits (such, for instance, age, gender, geographical location and so on…).
Similarity bias is even enhanced by our other bias, which we call snap judgement, whereby we unconsciously make up our mind on someone during the first milliseconds after we meet. I have separately written about the many benefits of overcoming snap judgements.
The combination of snap judgements and similarity biases is the one reason why gender diversity (but also age diversity, geographic diversity and possibly many other aspects of diversity) is so difficult to happen without a little nudge (such as that of a proper law).
That little nudge lets us overcome unconscious fears, to the advantage of merit, competencies and corporate governance.