Facing Down Bias in the Workplace

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Facing Down Bias in the Workplace

I receface-1434861-1279x1952ntly took an honest assessment of the people on my team. Each one is fantastic. But I am disappointed in myself when I assess the demographics of my team in light of my interest in creating diverse inclusive workplaces. I’m a forty-seven year old white woman. Guess who helps run my business? That’s right… mostly white women between the ages of 34 and 50 (only my accountant and web designer are not). One could argue that I am providing employment for an often overlooked talent pool, but I seek to increase diversity at my company.  

Despite teaching others and writing about unconscious bias and its effects in the workplace, I realize that I am not immune to bias. In fact, I surround myself with people who are quite similar to me. Why does it matter? First, research on team effectiveness consistently shows that diverse teams are smarter. They explore issues more thoroughly and make better decisions. Second, we maximize the benefits of our increasingly diverse society only when we face down our own individual biases – overt and unconscious – and then respond by building inclusive, resilient organizations that reflect the inclusive, resilient society we desire.

I am not alone in my predicament. Google made big news when its diversity report revealed that 19% of its technology employees are women. Astonishingly, this employer of 56,000 people had only 2% black and 3% Hispanic employees. Like most, I was stunned. This information encouraged me to consider the makeup of my own business. Google has responded with a concerted effort to increase gender and racial diversity of its employees by addressing hiring practices. Most significantly, Google has responded by focusing on creating an inclusive workplace environment. In addition, Google has begun providing technology training for individuals and small businesses to help grow a more diverse talent pool of technologists. The result is a slight gain in their 2016 diversity report over previous years.

Increasing workforce diversity and developing an inclusive workplace present multifaceted challenges. Building a talent pipeline takes time. Bringing in unique individuals and reaping the full benefits of their talents as part of building an inclusive work environment may not be intuitive. So, why does Google persist? Because, as the CEO Sundar Pichai says, “A diverse mix of voices leads to better discussions, decisions, and outcomes for everyone.” (http://www.pressreader.com/) Clearly, making an effort to increase diversity and to instill inclusivity in the workplace translates into making an effort to be a smarter, more adaptive organization.

To understand why our organizations tend to be homogenous, let’s consider the human brain’s tendency towards bias. Bias is our inclination to believe something is true based on our socialization and past experiences. It is triggered automatically causing us to make quick judgements and assessments of people and situations. When we are unaware of our biases, we often fail to connect our perceptions with our behaviors and actions. Instead we generate rational reasons to explain ourselves. For example, I might explain that I hired a “candidate most like me” because she was more relaxed and provided better responses during an interview while failing to realize that my behavior may have altered interviewees’ level of comfort: perhaps I sat further away from, built less rapport or provided less job information to the candidate “least like me”.

We must recognize that we all hold unconscious biases about others (and even about ourselves) that affect our behavior. Likewise, we are all affected by others’ unconscious bias – either positively or negatively – in the workplace and in society. There is ample bias research that evidences the effects of bias in the workplace. Researchers have identified over 150 known categories of bias including: gender, race, height, employment status, family status, age, and job title. Here are some striking results of research on workplace bias:

  • Resumes with “typically white” names received 50% more callbacks for phone interviews than those with “typically black” names. The average “typically white” named candidates received more callbacks than highly skilled “typically black” named candidates.
  • Science researchers were asked to rate a male and female candidate for a lab manager position – both had the same qualifications. Both male and female raters assessed the male candidate as more qualified and were willing to pay him a higher starting salary than the female candidate.
  • White interviewers sat farther away from black applicants than from white applicants, made more speech errors and ended the interviews 25% sooner.
  • Less than 15% of American men are taller than 6 feet but over 60% of all CEOs are over 6 feet tall.
  • Every inch of height amounts to a salary increase of about $789 per year.
  • Blond women’s salaries are 7% higher than women who are brunettes or redheads.

Bias shows up in society, too. The tragic police shootings both by and at officers in the United States in the last months has rekindled conversation about racial bias and policing.  Whether we are citizens concerned about police violence or business leaders concerned about employee diversity, we must ask ourselves  “What role does unconscious bias play in shaping our decisions and actions? How can our biases be managed to make better decisions?”

To face down unconscious bias in your workplace, consider these six strategies:

  1.      Educate yourself and your team.  Learn the neuroscience behind bias, and understand that bias is a human reaction. By acknowledging our own biases, we loosen our attachment to repeated social narratives, the stories we tell ourselves to justify why we hired someone who is “just like me.” Interested in learning about your own racial and gender bias? Take this online assessment from Project Implicit, a non-profit research collaboration.
  2.      Partner with others.  Identify talented employees from diverse backgrounds. There are a number of organizations that help businesses build a diverse talent pool. Consider partnering with one to help you attract a more diverse set of candidates. For example,  Path Forward helps organizations bring stay-at-home mothers back into the technology industry.
  3.      Create a decision tool. To guard against unconscious bias, create a decision tool that everyone on the hire team uses. Identify criteria most important for success, and use this scoring rubric to measure candidates’ qualifications. Adapt rubrics used by schools to assess students. Click here to learn to create a valid rubric for decisions you need to make at work such as your next job hire or promotion.
  4.      Practice mindfulness. Research shows that mindfulness practices  improve our decision-making capability and override bias. When we are mindful we are fully connected to the present moment and experience a deeper sense of interconnectedness with others. Rhonda Magee speaks and writes about how mindfulness can combat racial bias. In this video, she demonstrates a simple practice you can use to become more mindful in stressful situations.
  5.      Build flexible and inclusive policies. Building a diverse workforce includes retaining the women, minority, LGBT and disabled employees currently employed. Pull together a diversity and inclusiveness team to assess the policies that support, and those and that hinder, employees’ satisfaction and effectiveness. Identify ways to build an inclusive business culture.
  6.      Attend to the environment. People stay put where they feel included and understood. Racial bias in particular seems to be an “undiscussable” issue in many workplaces. How about starting  a conversation on your team? PwC’s new U.S. Chairman Tim Ryan did. On July 21st in response to the recent shooting, PwC hosted a day of conversations about race with the company. Why? Because of “his desire to comfort employees” and “bolster engagement, recruitment”, Ryan says he hopes “for the sake of our country we all do better. But if we do better at PwC, we will be a great destination for talent.”

Our place of work is a place for professional development and individual growth, but it holds the potential to serve our society, as well. At Collaborative Action, LLC, I’m challenging myself to face down unconscious bias and create an inclusive workplace among my team. Will you join me in developing businesses that are diverse and inclusive?

By | 2017-02-02T04:49:24+00:00 July 28th, 2016|Business Leadership|0 Comments

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