Never judge a book by its cover. We all know the value in these words, yet we’ve possibly all caught ourselves doing exactly the opposite in different scenarios: basing decisions on edited photos, believing news information that appears to be legitimate, or making assumptions about other people.
Unconscious bias is all around us. And whether we realize it or not, influences such as our backgrounds, the environments we find ourselves in and the experiences we’ve had play a part in shaping our ideas.
When it comes to interacting with others in a professional setting, having an unconscious bias towards them can be costly (think of the Starbucks incident that gained major media attention). It can cause great damage to your company’s reputation and, without a doubt, has an impact on the individuals involved.
As for hiring processes, companies often have good intentions but might still be allowing unconscious bias to creep into their decision-making processes. In fact, research has shown this to be the case.
So, is it possible to reduce bias in the workplace?
Going beyond anti-bias training
Most of today’s resources recommend anti-bias training as a solution. While this is of course, important, it’s not enough.
In an article shared by Human Resource Executive, we see that anti-bias training (particularly when done in isolation) does have the potential to backfire. Harvard University professor of sociology, Frank Dobbin, along with Alexandra Kalev, shares:
“Firms have long relied on diversity training to reduce bias on the job, hiring tests and performance ratings to limit it in recruitment and promotions, and grievance systems to give employees a way to challenge managers. Those tools are designed to preempt lawsuits by policing managers’ thoughts and actions.
Yet laboratory studies show that this kind of force-feeding can activate bias rather than stamp it out. As social scientists have found, people often rebel against rules to assert their autonomy. Try to coerce me to do X, Y, or Z, and I’ll do the opposite just to prove that I’m my own person.”
To overcome this challenge and build an anti-bias strategy, companies need to ensure that their people understand why they are biased. Because we all are.
In the aforementioned article, Sigal Barsade, a Wharton management professor and anti-bias consultant, suggests that bias stems from a place of fear and anxiety rather than animosity. It’s a function of how our brains work, combined with ideas formed as children and external sources (e.g. media).
When people, and organizations, gain a deeper understanding of this and how bias impacts our work environments, they tend to react positively in taking steps to deal with it.
“Good unconscious bias education educates people about what the phenomenon itself is, where it comes from biologically and psychologically, that we are not hard-wired against a particular group, but that around the world people are biased against all sorts of things, and it shows them data and evidence,” says Barsade.
Weaving an anti-bias strategy into company culture
Here are a few recommendations that will help you redefine your anti-bias strategy:
- Drive education – help people to understand what can be done to prevent bias on individual and organizational levels
- Ensure that anti-bias discussions are had beyond any training space – it should form part of the conversation in the hiring process and in feedback sessions or performance evaluations
- Further to the above, anti-bias practices should be practiced not just spoken about
- Focus on creating an inclusive workplace rather than reaching diversity targets
- Put mentorship programs or other initiatives that get people working together into place
- Promote a culture that is open to honest discussions
To reiterate, training can be valuable, but one program is not going to solve it all and immediately change employees’ behavior. It needs to be supported by a long-term anti-bias strategy with a focus on how to roll it out on a day-to-day basis.
Removing bias from the outset
It’s a good starting point to recognize that unconscious bias is ingrained in us all. Undoing it requires a new mindset.
Much of this begins during the hiring stage (our recruitment software helps remove any bias) and carries through to the employee integration stage by connecting all employees into the fabric of your organization – a process of getting an anti-bias strategy established in your company culture.