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Avoid Nepotism to Create Inclusive Workplaces




BiasSync’s April virtual conversation focused on understanding the impact of nepotism and using strategies to avoid nepotism and workplace discrimination. These monthly webinars help leaders to think about the DEI/DEIA challenges in their organization and become more aware of how to address these challenges.

The classical definition of nepotism is showing favoritism to relatives by giving them a job over other candidates who may be more qualified. That definition can be extended to include favoritism toward one’s friends or entire social group. In other words, nepotism is an affinity bias that leads people to bring people just like themselves into the workplace.

Good Intentions Gone Awry

Carlecia Wright is the chief diversity officer for Lone Star College, the largest institution of higher education in Houston, as well as an award-winning equity and inclusion strategist who has developed techniques for leveling the playing field and reducing barriers for underrepresented, marginalized, and disadvantaged individuals and communities. Commenting on the risks associated with nepotism, she observes that “We're all naturally biased. We're also drawn to the affinity of others. What can happen is we can create homogenous groups and networks. And so, we lack that diversity of thought and we lack that diversity of perspective. It limits organizations, and it limits some of the outcomes that organizations can have.”

“We're all naturally biased. We're also drawn to the affinity of others. "

In a similar vein, Dr. Taylor Peyton, passionate advocate for human flourishing in organizations, BiasSync’s senior organizational researcher, points out that “Nepotistic practices come from good intentions, and they come from a very natural, human, well-intentioned place. The problem is that when you start making decisions from the practice of nepotism, it can go wrong when you are denying equal opportunity to others or when you are hiring less qualified individuals for a position, or maybe you're creating conflicts of interest in your organization that can be hard or impossible to navigate effectively for everyone.”

“If you're hiring people who all are similar to each other because they all like each other or you have that affinity toward each other, then you're steering into a lack of diversity for your organization."

Dr. Peyton adds, “If you're hiring people who all are similar to each other because they all like each other or you have that affinity toward each other, then you're steering into a lack of diversity for your organization, not just from a demographic background perspective, but maybe from also how problems are looked at, how problems are solved, and how creative you all can be as a team. So that's a downside when everyone looks the same or is homogenous.”

Considering Equity and Diversity

Nepotism can negatively affect various aspects of company functioning and culture, including promotions, compensation, and employee identity. To avoid nepotism in the workplace, companies need to be equity-conscious. They must avoid unintentionally denying equal opportunity to people, hiring less qualified individuals for a position, creating conflicts of interest in the organization, or creating workplace discrimination. In addition to looking at diverse recruitment sources, it is important that a selection committee not make a decision based on whose relative is applying for a position. Also, the membership of the search committee itself needs to be diverse, so as to ensure that its recruitment process will reflect different, diverse perspectives.

One of the best practices is transparency. If an organization does hire relatives or people connected by nepotistic ties, it must be very transparent about what the relationships are. Be sure that there is a written policy that makes clear under what circumstances nepotism is allowed and that provides governance for the individuals involved (i.e., both the one who is part of the existing team as well as the person coming in), as well as transparency in the form of detailed job descriptions.

Another means to avoid the downside of nepotism is to use checks and balances. If a relative or friend is recommended by one person, other people should be involved in the actual hiring decision.

Assessments are extremely useful tools for sensitive topics. BiasSync offers an equity barrier diagnostic tool with which a company can carry out a full equity audit on itself. This tool is designed to surgically identify where inequity may be occurring in the organization throughout an employee's life cycle—from recruitment to hiring and beyond—and allows employees to confidentially and anonymously identify instances of nepotism and problems with equity in the workplace more generally.

Organizations that want to learn more about mitigating unconscious bias and its role in advancing workplace inclusion can start here.

Updated: 07/2022

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