homophily. noun. A theory in sociology that people tend to form connections with others who are similar to them in characteristics such as socioeconomic status, values, beliefs, or attitudes.
It’s not a word we hear or use often (if ever), and yet, we know this concept like we know our own reflection in the mirror.
Everywhere we go, we are looking for people just like us. Maybe you’ve heard it expressed as, birds of a feather flock together.
Perhaps the candidate you are interviewing casually mentions that they breed the same type of dog you have owned for years. Your face lights up over this shared affection and your tone and mood warm instantly.
Or, you notice a supplier’s college ring from your alma mater and you give them a quick fist bump in acknowledgement of your glory days back on campus. You suddenly feel like this person just gets it.
And, we can almost all relate to arriving at a party before your friends do, scanning the crowd and eventually sideling up to someone who looks like a neighbor, colleague or family member to make small talk. Their familiar presence puts you at ease.
This concept is called the “like-me bias,” and it is completely natural. It’s normal for it to influence our thinking as managers, team leaders and supervisors.
But, if we don’t guard against making decisions based solely on the like-me bias, we might unconsciously surround ourselves with “mini-me’s.” (This worked for Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies, but in the office – not so much.)
Your business objectives depend on diverse perspectives. Seek out this diversity, whether it be in terms of gender, generations, ethnicity or thinking styles. Taking the comfortable route of surrounding yourself with people like you not only stifles creativity – it encourages the idea that you show favoritism, whether you do so consciously or not.
Today’s Small Acts of Inclusion
• Write down a list of 10 people at work whom you trust. Next, evaluate how similar or different they are from you. If you find that your most trusted colleagues are more like you than not, homophily has hijacked your network. For more information, check out my video on this topic.
• Practice critical reflection when interviewing candidates. Ask yourself if there is something that has influenced you positively or negatively, such as hobbies, clothing, resume history unrelated to work qualifications, Greek organizations, sports team allegiances, attractiveness, etc., and rise above any biases these details provoke. Evaluate the candidate on objective criteria.
• Give someone on your team permission to offer you honest, confidential feedback about your blind spots and alert you if you like-me bias is swaying you.
When you make an effort to be aware of your like-me bias, you can start to clear your mind of snap judgments. You just might catch yourself in time to apply what you’ve learned about diversity and inclusion to your next decision at work.