Diversity is increasingly viewed as an invaluable asset, but organizations that strive to create inclusive environments continue to be hindered by unconscious biases. A new digital compass developed by Université Laval’s Institut EDI2 (Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Intersectionality) in collaboration with Laboratoire RELIA and NumÉduca aims to help. The Boussole des biais inconscients et des comportements inclusifs [currently available in French only] is designed to help identify and minimize unconscious bias and promote inclusive behaviours among employees by exploring how organizations can work with historically marginalized and under-represented groups.
The seeds for this tool were planted several years ago as the research team began collecting human behaviour data. Participants said they were interested in receiving personalized survey results, but there was no tool available at the time. According to research team member Alain Stockless, a professor in the department of didactics at Université du Québec à Montréal, they were “inspired by voter compass concepts to develop an inclusive questionnaire based on sound scientific criteria.” At the launch on Sept. 15, he explained that the compass analyzes questionnaire responses in real time to graphically show users where they stand on everyday unconscious biases. “It amounts to an enlightening self-assessment,” he said. Although still in development, the platform is already open to the general public for training and awareness-building activities.
Creating a bias and behaviour typology was at the heart of the development work. The team detailed this process in the book Biais inconscients et comportements inclusifs dans les organisations, published in 2022. In it, they define examples of unconscious biases – stereotypes, prototype bias, contrast effect, first impression bias, halo effect, blind spot bias, personal bias, negativity bias, universality bias and similarity bias. They then used this typology to develop the questionnaire. Each question was carefully analyzed and refined over a two-year period.
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At the same event, Sophie Brière, a professor in the department of management at Université Laval and the director of Institut EDI2, explained that the questionnaire initially had between 200 and 300 questions. “We knew that simple means accessible, so we carefully whittled that down to between 60 and 70 questions. Our goal is to make this tool available to organizations in every sector,” she said.
Dr. Stockless noted that one innovative feature of the compass is how it drives immediate engagement by showing participants how their responses align with those of the other respondents. “This is a novel use of a characteristic that is under-used in research. We have made it an integral part of all our research project dissemination plans. I think that from both a research and a participant perspective, it would be interesting to develop similar compasses to stimulate reflection on other topics.”
For Dr. Brière, the compass is a gateway to deeper reflection on how we as individuals can help make society more inclusive. “If your biases influence decisions that impact people’s lives, it’s time to challenge your preconceptions. The compass prompts you to reflect on every decision. It’s designed to help you identify and prioritize which of your biases to work on. But for optimal effect, it must be used in conjunction with our typologies,” she said.
The compass project is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council through its race, gender and diversity initiative. Its long-term goal, according to Dr. Stockless, is to develop longitudinal studies to track how participant bias and behaviour evolve over a two- to three-year period. The English version of the compass and the book that inspired it will be released in 2024.
Mohamed Berrada is the French-language journalist at University Affairs.