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Inclusion nudges guidebook

Global case studies, May 2015

Practical techniques for changing behaviour, culture & systems to mitigate unconscious bias and create inclusive organisations. Looking for ways to ‘nudge’ employees within your organisation towards more inclusive practices? A new guidebook profiles real life techniques used by organisations to outsmart unconscious biases that can occur in critical decision-making scenarios, and which have a track record of success in supporting behavioural change.

Ever wondered how organisations are successfully supporting and influencing their employees to make more inclusive decisions at times that are critical in the work environment?

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) specialists Tinna Nielsen and Lisa Kepinski have developed the Inclusion Nudges Guidebook, based on the contribution of global experts (including Deloitte), extensive research and practical experience.  The aim of these nudges is to  disrupt unconscious biases that occur in various decision making scenarios in the workplace. They have provided real life examples of how organisations have used these techniques to support behavioural change and ultimately help organisations strengthen their culture of inclusion.

When are unconscious biases a problem and why is there a need for awareness?  The key reason found by Nielsen and Kepinski is that reliance on personal automatic unconscious systems not only limits the input from  conscious thoughts, but it can often come “in direct conflict with ones’ ability to make fair judgements and give people equal opportunity”, say Nielsen and Kapinsk. This  can result in less than optimal inclusion where employees are not embracing the diversity of knowledge, perspectives and information amongst their peers and may not be aware of their own unconscious biases. This often affects critical decision making moments during talent acquisition, training and promotion conversations. 

To change behaviours, culture and systems, as well as  existing L&D initiatives, organisations can use strategies and enablers that target the whole brain, including the subconscious. Simply stating “I want to be more inclusive in my approach to people who are different”, will rarely generate a substantiated change in behaviour.


In publishing the Inclusion Nudges Guidebook,  Nielsen & Kepinski aimed to:

  • Bring awareness to how Nudges can ‘outsmart’ the unconscious biases that effect decision making in the workplace
  • Publish  a range of applied techniques in various organisations and their implications in critical decision making moments across the HR Lifecycle
  • Inspire organisations to design their own Nudges as part of D&I initiatives focussed on sustainable behavioural change and enabling inclusive cultures.

What is a nudge and why is it important?

A behavioural nudge is a non–intrusive mental push that helps the brain make better decisions, and is intended to help people change behaviour, without convincing them with rational arguments, incentives, threatening or punishing them. 

The researchers have applied the concept of behavioural nudges specific to inclusive decision making. These techniques are designed to complement and build on existing L&D initiatives in order to leverage the potential of diversity and develop more inclusive organisations.

Three types of Inclusion Nudges

The Inclusion Nudges are categorised into three target areas;

  1. “Feel the Need” – Targeting motivation  through an emotional connection
  2. “Process” – Targeting ability and simplicity through easy processes
  3. “Framing” – Targeting perception through applying an alternative frame. 


1. “Feel the Need” nudges influence change and motivate people through targeting the subconscious emotional connection, where people ‘feel’ the need to make a change. These commonly occur in workplaces with the result being the ‘aha’ amongst employees and decision makers.

An example of a ‘Feel the Need’ Nudge Technique:


To illustrate the biases in evaluation and selection of candidates as part of a recruitment process, a ‘Feel the need’ nudge technique was applied to show individuals how the unconscious biases may come out rather than telling them.


Two groups of assessors were given fictional candidate resumes to assess for a particular role with the only difference being the candidate’s gender and name. Assessors were asked to rate them on the likelihood that they would hire the candidate.


Results showed that there were diverse responses between the groups where the male group scored the individual significantly higher than the female group. The results were shared with the whole group, allowing the assessors to spot the patterns in how the two groups rated the candidate differently due to gender and race.  This helped bring awareness to assessors to ‘feel’ the impact their implicit associations and stereotypes can have on hiring and evaluating candidates.

2.  Process Nudges are where enablers, such as changing the system default, are used to easily guide the unconscious to make more objective, less biased and more inclusive decisions

An example of a ‘Process’ Nudge Technique:


The aim of the nudge was to reduce the halo effect that occurs during annual appraisals when feedback was being discussed on an employee’s performance over the year, resulting in only the most recent accomplishments or failures being remembered.


By introducing an electronic, real time tool, whereby employees can receive instant feedback from multiple sources on their performance e.g. An instant message sent by a manager; “Great presentation in the meeting today”.  The feedback messages can then be linked to the employee’s file in order to take a comprehensive look at performance, equipping employees with the information needed to assess their own performance.


This Nudge is a simple change in the process that enables managers to more easily reinforce desired behaviours. By allowing managers to give real time feedback, and eliminate recency bias, it helps steer employee behaviour in a timely manner.

3.  Framing Nudges are intended to shift the mind from being associated with a particular connotation that may be an unconscious bias, to a more positive and inclusive prime.

An example of a ‘Framing’ Nudge Technique:


The aim of the nudge was to bridge the significant differences between men and women applying for international assignments when asked ‘Will you take an international assignment’, which was seen as critical for career progression. The research found that women and men interpreted this question differently. Women interpreted the question relevant to their current situation and hence were more reluctant and much less likely to answer “yes”, whereas men were open to the thought regardless of whether their current situation could support it.


By changing the application question from ‘Will you take an international  assignment’ or ‘Are you international mobile’; to ‘Will you consider an international assignment at some point in the future’.


By simply reframing the question, more women (up to 25% increase in one year) responded that they would consider an international assignment due to the change in perception of the implications of saying yes.


A key finding  of the guidebook, is that while ‘Feel the Need’ nudges are most commonly used to raise awareness of unconscious biases, the addition of ‘Process’ and ‘Framing’ nudges can act as enablers to help individuals make objective and inclusive choices more easily. They therefore will have a greater impact in sustained behavioural change.

Results have also found that “Feel-the-Need”and ‘’Process’’ Inclusion Nudges are also useful in bringing about compliance and accountability in employees without linking D&I to rewards; this is because they create a follow-the-herd reaction, showing the inclusive behaviour of the majority.

Other examples of where the nudges have been used are in:

  • Helping individuals verbalise uncomfortable biased interactions
  • Encouraging women to take promotional opportunities
  • Highlighting biased customer- claim handling
  • Understanding  the importance of diverse customers
  • Retention of senior employees  (age 55+).

This Guidebook is a worthy edition to the literature on unconscious bias, helping  managers and employees identify the critical moments across the employee lifecycle where there is an opportunity create a Nudge and then to h behave more inclusively. The Nudges can be used to focus D&I efforts on making sustainable changes in behaviour and culture.

For further information contact Elzaan Pienaar.