Book Review: Bias Interrupted Creating Inclusion for Real and for Good - Joan C. Williams

Book cover.

Companies spend billions of dollars annually on diversity efforts, with remarkably few results. Too often diversity efforts rest on the assumption that all that's needed is an earnest conversation about "privilege." That's not enough. To truly make progress with diversity, equity and inclusion, we must focus less on documenting the problem and more on just stopping the transmission of it.

In Bias Interrupted, Joan C. Williams shows how it's done, and reassuringly, how easy it is to get started. Leaders just need to use standard business systems and standard business tools—data and metrics—to interrupt the bias that is constantly transmitted through formal systems like performance appraisals and the informal systems that control access to opportunities, like mentoring programs. The book presents fresh evidence based on Williams's research and work with companies, in that interrupting bias helps every group—including white men.

This is a good - albeit frustratingly limited - book. The central thesis is that we all have biases, and that it's impossible to control our automatic reaction provoked by those biases. Therefore, we should look to interrupt those biases. Deliberately act to prevent those biases from influencing your - and your company's - behaviours. The book is about the professional classes in the US - architects, engineers, lawyers. It is especially relevant for people working in larger organisations staffed by university-educated professionals.

It's a remarkably practical and focused book. It sets out clear stages for we can do as individuals, as CEOs, and as HR professionals. It also contains a lot of data - and it uses it expertly. Many people feel that "diversity" is a fluffy and nebulous topic - the book puts that to rest. It is relentlessly focussed on proving its case - very handy for engineering culture which demands evidence.

But it is short. That's good for the busy executive on the go - but it feels like it's only giving an overview of what to do. There are practical steps - but easy to miss and they almost feel like an afterthought to some chapters.

It's also exclusively American, with no thought for what's happening outside their borders. I found some of the recommendations and examples somewhat unrelatable - especially as one constant example is American Football, which was just baffling to me. There was nothing about the role Trade Unions might play in tackling bias.

Unfortunately, at times it does feel like a sales pitch for the author's courses. With constant exhaltations to visit their website and download their courses and whitepapers.

If you can look past those limitation, and are prepared to adapt the examples to a UK context, it's a great resource for tackling systemic issues.

Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy. The book is available to buy now.

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