Liveblogging TB Brighton #9: Combating Bias with Heuristics of Diversity by Ash Coleman

Combating Bias with Heuristics of Diversity

By Ash Coleman @AshColeman30

Ash Coleman is Head of Diversity and Inclusion and a former Engineer. Today, she is speaking on diversity – such an important topic. So to start us off, Ash sets a number of Community Rules.

Lean into Discomfort



No Judgements

Feet on the Floor

Open for Correction

Ash has always been the one and only in the room. And although she has now moved into other roles: once a tester, always a tester.

Today, she takes us on a journey. First up: an exercise!

The Circle of Trust

Make a list to the left of the initials of the 6-10 people you trust the most

Make a checkmark next to all the people where the following criteria apply (per criteria)

  • does this person have the same race as you?
  • does this person have the same gender as you?
  • does this person have the same social-economic background as you?
  • does this person have the same level as education as you? Did they go to the same college as you? (or similar: you both have a bachelors)
  • does this person have the same age?

Count up all of your checks

Divide them by how many choices (people) you had

Your affinity group is comprised of X percentage of people just like you.

So, in a simple way, Ash got us to quickly identify our affinity groups, and of course “affinity is an actual bias.” Ash continues to show us Confirmation Bias and Gender Bias. How many mental hoops do we jump through to think of scenarios that means we don’t have to confront our gender bias? Who do you think of when you think of a surgeon? A plumber? A pilot?

There are a 175 bias that we go through every day. The thing is: biases are heuristics. We make innate decisions and created patterns that allows us to act quickly. So: similarly to the concept of reverse discrimination not being an actual thing, reverse bias is not a thing. In Ash’s words: “So: we are talking about reverse bias, right? NOPE!”

Correcting a bias is NOT a reverse bias. Correcting a bias is about awareness. As we become more aware of our own bias and what they have resulted in, taking actions to correct can display what would look like preferential behaviour, but is in fact recalibrating effort

Being explicit with our actions is the correct.

So how do we realize what we need to correct? Small interruptions bring us up short (like when Ash dropped the toothpaste in the shower…). They can be harsh and confrontational. Yet, they are essential and create awareness if we are willing to be confronted! So, once we have identified it… how do we correct it? With a correction! If there are only men in the room? Get the women in there too! If there is no diversity in skin colours: find the others! Intersectional focus is absolutely essential!

Heuristics of Diversity

  • No one heuristic is greater than the other
  • Start with the most well-known problem first
  • If everyone in the room looks like you, it’s not diverse (who is missing from the room?)
  • If everyone in a room has the same credentials as you, it’s not diverse (again: people from different social economic circumstances and/or education are likely to realise different ways in which your plans impact other people)
  • Hold spaces for the unknown and express empathy for the unknown (how much easier is it to donate to foreign causes than to our home cause. This is mostly because we have less understanding of the foreign context than our own. When a colleague is going through a hard time, you might see them not pulling their weight … whereas if a friend is going through a hard time, you don’t understand why their work is not more sympathetic to them.)
  • You can only dream/imagine what you can see – create the vision for everyone. (who are role models? Is there diversity in this? Is the vision a realistic one for everyone? Or do we need to work hard at it so that we can make this vision a realistic dream? How many black female CEOs do you know?)
  • High standard equal low devotion (you can’t do it all perfectly. Ash’s example of her New Year’s Resolutions on exercise, healthy eating, losing weight, etc. Ultimately, she now focuses on healthy eating for the moment rather than on it all)
  • Routine tasks do not constitute identify or cognitive diversity – anyone can do them
  • Everyone being in agreement is not indicative of unity (who is not being heard? Who is silent? Who is being talked over?)
  • Identify diversity correlates to cognitive diversity (Remember intersectionality! The excuse “diversity of thought” is that: an excuse – and a problematic one at that. It’s a cop-out and you are then in an echo chamber. Don’t be this person.)

How to apply these :

  • When you are faces with a decision, take a moment to think about it
  • Give yourself 30 seconds or 3 possibilities
  • If necessary, ask questions
  • Provide context for your reasoning
  • Make decisions with confidence

Brilliant talk, Ash!