Blog | 29 Aug 2019

The Art and Science of Changing Behaviour and Influencing Mindsets

This opinion piece forms part of our IMPACTxAsia blog series

The Art and Science of Changing Behaviour and Influencing Mindsets

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategy and implementation has evolved considerably, both across the world and in Asia, in recent years. Throughout many thriving companies in the region, we see examples of key conversations around D&I being had across all levels of the business, and the creation of an understanding and real rhetoric around D&I. But are D&I interventions changing mindsets in the workforce, or are they still seen by many employees as box-ticking exercises that may give pause for thought initially, but do not affect behaviour in the long-term? To explore this question effectively it is first important to break D&I into  its composite parts:  


All the ways in which we are different. Diversity is about recognising, respecting and valuing these differences,  and ensuring that your workforce, customers, suppliers and other key stakeholders are diverse so that your organisation has access to the broadest base of ideas, perspectives and opportunities. Some of these differences are visible such as race, age, and gender, while some are underlying and less visible, such as religion, values, sexual orientation, beliefs, life experiences, and education.   


Creating an environment that harnesses the contribution of all people, by leveraging their diversity. It’s about embracing and leveraging diversity and creating an environment where every employee is valued and able to contribute their full potential, and respected for who they are as a person, and what they bring to the organisation. 

So embracing people from different backgrounds, acknowledging and celebrating their differences is the starting point.  The benefit or payoff of diversity is only realised when companies create a culture of inclusion – empowering, valuing and harnessing the contribution of each unique individual towards a set of shared business goals.  

The challenge that businesses face today is how to create a paradigm shift among their workforce – moving from the “do” of diversity to the “feel” of inclusion. Installing the rhetoric of D&I in your workplace is the easy part. Running seminars or workshops on how to be an inclusive manager, for example, may cause your team to think objectively about the way they operate, and may even spark short-term behaviour change. But what happens six months down the line, when the techniques from the D&I workshop have become a vague memory, and your team have reverted to their old behavioural patterns?  

These are not easy patterns to break. Workplaces are awash with unconscious biases. Encouraging behaviour change and eventually challenging deep-seated mindsets takes time. Furthermore, ensuring cultural sensitivity and correcting for the local context in Asia provides an additional hurdle for regional D&I teams – what worked well in Western offices and has been suggested by global teams may not apply as easily in the Asian context. Working out where to start can be the hardest part for responsible leaders and D&I professionals. So why not start small? Employing a simple behavioural change technique, such as the Fogg Method, may help to alter patterns in the office on a small scale, eventually leading to larger wins and steps towards true inclusion in the workplace.    

According to the Fogg Method, the key to successfully changing behaviour is training your brain to succeed at small adjustments, from which you gain confidence from the success, eventually adopting larger behavioural change.  

The Fogg Method can be broken down into three simple steps:  

  1. Be specific and ensure you start with an achievable step (note, this does not have to be the end-result). 

  1. Make it easy by forming a routine. 

  1. Set a trigger and if this does not come naturally, then design one.  

According to Dr. Fogg “Forming habits is not about willpower... it's about design and revision."   

While this seems on the surface more applicable to helping an individual exercise more or eat more healthily, we can apply the same principles to the workplace in the pursuit of an inclusive environment. For example, self-reflection may uncover that an individual only inquires about the weekend activity of other heterosexual colleagues and does not make small-talk with those in same-sex relationships. While not outwardly biased, this does not help to foster an environment of psychological safety, where employees are comfortable bringing their whole selves to work. To break down this unconscious habit, the Fogg Method might suggest setting a diary reminder (the trigger) to encourage our individual to chat with colleagues they do not have an affinity with, or perhaps make a regular lunch date with a more diverse group to implant organic sharing and foster inclusion naturally. Organisations such as Inclusion Nudges take a similar approach: by ‘nudging’ the unconscious mind to be inclusive by default, they hope that both individuals and companies will be equipped to work with and innovate through a diverse spectrum of perspectives and create a more cohesive environment. 

Changing the attitudes of the workforce as a whole is only becoming more timely as younger people enter the fold. As millennials and Generation Z enter the workforce, they bring with them more inclusive mindsets that embrace and celebrate their differences. They move as a persuasive force, speaking openly and proudly about their feelings and life experiences in the workplace – previously taboo for older generations. Further, they will not feel shame or be silenced and work environments must adapt to accommodate or risk losing key talent. Inclusion in a safe and welcoming workplace is a key factor determining which job offers a young graduate may consider, and it is vital the employers are aware of the changing needs of a generation who are not willing to suffer at the hands of discriminatory or biased employers. In fact, welcoming this new wave of curiosity and nurturing it as a skill that the entire workforce should hold will not only help to eradicate exclusionary behaviour across all seniority levels but will also open up new avenues of creativity and collaboration that may have been previously closed off. 


About the Author: Emily Moss, Senior Manager, Marketing & Communications, Community Business