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Break Down Norms to Foster Culture of Inclusion, Innovation

Identifying and implementing strategies to break down cultural norms in academic and institutional research settings can be difficult, but it’s necessary to build an inclusive culture that fosters innovation, experts explained.

“Building a culture of innovation means that we have to change how people think,” said Theresa Caban, director of clinical trials and industry contacts at Lundquist Institute for Biomedical Innovation in Torrence, California, at a webinar presented by the National Council of University Research Administrators.[1]

People in an organization tend to think in terms of “this is how we’ve always done it,” or “this is how others in the community are doing it, so we’re just going to do it that way,” Caban said. “We like it very much when people are like us. We’re attracted to others who have similar ideals [and] similar behaviors.” Those challenging norms can find themselves in “a very, very lonely place,” she said.

Researchers studying the effectiveness of implicit bias training have found that emphasizing the idea that everyone is biased can normalize and increase bias, Caban explained. However, they found that including a message that people are committed to overcoming their biases potentially can counter this, she added.

“From the Neanderthals to modern man, we have changed our behaviors for the good,” she said. “Why would we stop doing that now?”

Individuals and institutions “need to use the tools we have in our hands to help us make those changes,” Caban said. “When confronted with a cultural norm that is not or no longer acceptable, start the change by example. Create nonviolent ways to discuss and debate the behaviors in ways that are direct but kind and inclusive. It’s about creating momentum to move forward together. Fear blocks change. We fear what we don’t know or understand. This is why having different perspectives at the table is so important.”

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