Bias in the Workplace

It's time to 'fess up.  We all have them - ingrained conscious and unconscious biases.  Why do we naturally gravitate to the familiar and are a bit wary of the unfamiliar?  Recently, Starbucks made headlines when they closed all of their stores for a half-day, all-staff training on discrimination and bias. 

Many organizations continue to invest time and energies in raising their employees' awareness and understanding of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I).  While these efforts are to be commended, we're all still dealing with our own underlying biases.  And this may be limiting both the applicants', employees' and our organizations' ability to grow and benefit from each other's unique differences.

Mitigating Bias

These are the elephants in the room that many are unwilling to talk about.  We are naturally inclined to relate to those who look, act, and dress like ourselves, and not so much with those who don't.  "Rooting out your own bias requires complete self-awareness, which no one knows how to teach", reports NPR.  

"Mitigating bias is one of the hardest things in human existence," says David Rock, director of the NeuroLeadership Institute.  He believes that brain science can inform leaders on how to better motivate their employees and help them learn more.

"Eliminating bias would require people to become completely self-aware and objective about their own thoughts, and Rock says no one's found a way to do that.  Any strategy that essentially relies on people to try not to be biased is doomed to fail; that's the heart of the problem," he says.

Rock adds that people are adept at identifying the biases of their peers.

Start With HR

According to Laura Mazzullo, 'Did you know?  Bias is Hiding within your hiring efforts', "It often seems ‘assumed’ that HR leaders are behaving perfectly around D&I, are free of conscious and unconscious bias. I would strongly disagree. As someone who works exclusively with the HR community, I can assure you they, too, need training! Let’s make sure that when you bring in external/internal D&I Leaders, they don’t neglect to also coach the HR team."  

It's only natural to develop an affinity for an applicant or employee who is similar to ourselves.  It's not quite as natural and easy to do so with someone who is different from ourselves.  We in HR need to continually raise awareness of this.  

Techniques To Try

Mazzullo utilizes a technique where she and others hold each other accountable.  When they hear a biased comment, they say to each other, “Hey, I think that is demonstrating a bias. Let’s talk about it. I’d love for us to work past that together.”  She stresses that they're not judgmental, just trying to genuinely help each other raise their awareness of conscious and unconscious biases, which we all have.  She coached another team to catch each other and say, "Stop.  That's a bias", when they heard it.  It's not about shaming others, but rather mutually agreeing to help each other recognize our biases, and to hold each other accountable to not let their thinking cloud processes and decisions.

The Golden Rule Plus

Everyone will benefit when we can recognize our natural biases.  Since HR is the first point of contact in many organizations, bias awareness needs to begin here.  They should hold others accountable and not let their biases prevent them from reaching their full potential.  Let's remember to speak of and treat others not only how we ourselves wish to be treated, but how others wish to be treated.    

 

END NOTES

'Starbucks Training Focuses On The Evolving Study Of Unconscious Bias', by Yuki Noguchi, May 17, 2018 

'Did you know?  Bias is Hiding within your hiring efforts', by Laura Mazzullo, April 18, 2018