What can happen in a tenth of a second?

“Thinking is difficult. That’s why most people judge.”

Carl Jung

In my last post,  we saw that there are many studies that show a positive correlation between inclusion and diversity and business performance. Yet inclusion and diversity don’t come naturally. How come? That’s a very common question. It’s exactly the question I was asked by a Bulgarian gentleman I met during a garden party in London, days after the Brexit referendum.

Indeed, there’s robust evidence of lack of inclusion and diversity in companies. According to the World Economic Forum, gender equality will be achieved globally in the workplace in the year 2186.  In the US, CVs with white-sounding names receive fifty percent more call-backs for interviews than CVs with black-sounding names.[1] Other studies shows similar results for CVs with foreign-sounding names in European countries. Age discrimination is the most widely experienced form of discrimination across Europe. [2]

The illusion of objectivity

If you ask people around you: “Do you think women are less capable than men?” or “Do you think black people are less smart than white people?”, people will be shocked. Most of us genuinely believe that talent doesn’t have sex, age, or skin colour.

Based on the “talent comes in all shapes” assumption, if we are focusing on skills and competences when hiring and promoting, we should “naturally” end up with diverse organisations. It seems logical. But this is not happening. We often fail to see talent when it comes in sizes and shapes we’re not used to.

Most of us believe we hire and promote people based on merit. Once a French managing director in the insurance industry told me “I don’t even see people’s sex, skin colour or age, I treat everybody the same. Like a fish that swims naturally and I don’t have prejudices, naturally”. We wrongly believe we treat everybody the same. This might be our intention at a conscious level, but our unconscious, that dictates our behaviour most of the time, is always judging people on the way they look. This gap between what we say and what we do is called cognitive dissonance.

Research tells us that it takes a tenth of a second to form an impression of a stranger. [3] The fact is, we’re terrible at evaluating people objectively. We’re deluded by what Yale psychologist David Armor calls the “illusion of objectivity”, the notion that we’re free from the bias we’re so quick to recognise in others. [4] In fact, the more objective we think we are, the more biased we are. Research also showed the “paradox of meritocracy”: the ironic finding that people and organizations that assert they are meritocracies are typically less meritocratic in practice than their peers. [5]

In my next post, I’ll explore why we tend to judge people so quickly. Thanks for taking the time to read this one. Let me know what you think about it in the comments below. I’d love to hear your different perspectives!

This is an excerpt from one of the chapters of my upcoming book “How to become an inclusive leader – The winning leadership habits in a diverse world” (release in March 2017).

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Check out my Inclusive Leadership Program that empowers leaders and managers to get the most out of their teams by outsmarting unconscious bias and managing effectively to human differences.



[1] Bertrand, Marianne and Sendhil Mullainathan, Are Emily And Greg More Employable Than Lakisha And Jamal? A Field Experiment On Labor Market Discrimination, American Economic Review, September 2004.

[2] A snapshot of ageism in the UK and across Europe, Age UK, March 2011.

[3] http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/2006/july-06/how-many-seconds-to-a-first-impression.html.

[4] Mahzarin R. Banaji, Max H. Bazerman and Dolly Chugh, How (Un)ethical Are You ?, Business Harvard Review,  December 2003.

[5] Adam Quinton, The Paradox of Meritocracy – in Tech, May 2016.


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