COLUMN - ‘Avoiding the clonal effect: We like ourselves too much’
Published - 09/06/20 - 08:00 AM | 2276 views | 0 0 comments | 78 78 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Natasha Josefowitz
Natasha Josefowitz
I coined the term “clonal effect” for an article I wrote 40 years ago for AMACOM Management Review. It still pertains to what is going on today in terms of inequality—both in and out of the workplace.

You have identified your competencies and have presented them well, you have written the perfect resume, you were superb in the interview, there seems to be a perfect fit between you and the job you want. And yet, you were not hired. Is there anything wrong with you? No! It’s the clonal effect at work!

What is the clonal effect? It is the tendency of individuals, groups, and organizations to replicate themselves or others that are familiar to them wherever they have an opportunity to do so. The dictionary defines a clone as “a person or thing that duplicates, imitates, or closely resembles another in appearance.”

Every time someone is to be hired or promoted and there is a pool of available candidates, there are two criteria that enter into play. One is competence to do the required job; the other is the fit between the individual to be hired and the rest of the staff and organization. This is where the clonal effect takes place. The “fit” refers to the comfort level the employer or employees feel with the person being hired or promoted. “Fit” is in the eyes of the beholder.

Recent research findings point to the fact that, when people are discriminated against because of gender, race, or ethnic origin during the hiring process, it is often in terms of imagined fit. Men are hired more often to manage male subordinates, women are hired for female subordinates, and white people are hired more often when the rest of the workforce is white. In other words, fit deals with the perceived comfort levels of the subordinates who, it is felt, will be able to relate better to a manager of their own gender or color.

An employer hires someone with whom he or she has a fair chance of getting along with, communicating well with, or sharing basic values around such matters as work ethics, standards of quality, imagination, precision, punctuality, dress codes, humor, politics, and even leisure activities. The list is endless, and so are the possible prejudices. Who do we trust? We trust those whom we can understand, those who are most like us. Studies have shown that the more managers perceive people to be “like themselves,” the more they tend to like them.

Just as individuals tend to replicate themselves, so do groups and organizations. The tendency is to replace lost members with people who have similar characteristics, or to add people who would not change the dynamics of the usual communication patterns too much. This tendency is simply the seeking of comfort, and that is found with the person who comes from a similar background, for we are more trusting of those we can readily identify with. The prejudice, of course, is not in the acknowledgment of the difference, but in the preference of one over the other, and the discrimination is in acting upon this preference.

This is true not only in the workplace. Think in terms of who your friends are. Is the majority of a similar background, sharing similar values?

The clonal effect also inserts itself unconsciously in who we vote for, who we believe represents us. We are suspicious of the “different,” the “other.”

In order to become conscious of the clonal effect, in order to have more choices, we need to become aware of how we react to people. If we wish to stop the unconscious tendency to reproduce ourselves, then we must actively look for the discomfort of diversity, the potential for disagreement. This may be a good time to take a close look at our own preferences and prejudices. Examine past and current reactions to people different from ourselves. Do we avoid, ignore, or welcome the different person?

It is our responsibility to make our unconscious conscious and not let our behavior be controlled by forces we are unaware of and thus have some control over our behavior. We can then override this propensity to choose the familiar and move out of our comfort zone. Even though we prefer views that confirm our own, it is only through diversity that we can hear and benefit from other points of view.

Then, and only then, will women, blacks, Latinos, Asians, people of different religions and various ethnic backgrounds, people who are disabled , younger or older, and those with a different sexual orientation have a chance to join in, so that all of us can contribute our differences and be enriched by them.

Natasha Josefowitz is the author of 21 books. She currently resides at White Sands Retirement Community in La Jolla. Copyright © 1979; updated 2020. Natasha Josefowitz. All rights reserved.
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