By Linda Devonish – Mills, CAE, CPA, CMA, MBA, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Consultant
Is it possible for an organization to develop inclusive environments in the workplace if unconscious bias is present among colleagues? Probably not since everybody has biases that they may not be aware of. Anybody that thinks that they do not have biases is not ready to help their organization to create a bias free workplace.
The technical definition of unconscious bias is that it refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our decisions in an unconscious manner. These biases, which encompass favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control. It may be surprising that stereotypes are mentioned in the definition but play an integral role with its impact on our unconscious biases.
The Implicit Assessment Test (IAT) is a tool that can be used by individuals to identify their biases. The IAT measures the strength of associations between concepts (e.g., black people, gay people) and evaluations (e.g., good, bad) or stereotypes (e.g., athletic, clumsy). The main idea is that making a response is easier when closely related items share the same response key.
When doing an IAT, you are asked to quickly sort words into categories that are on the left and right hand side of the computer screen by pressing the “e” key if the word belongs to the category on the left and the “i” key if the word belongs to the category on the right. The IAT has five main parts. Additional information about the IAT including the five main parts can be found at HERE
Here are some examples that commonly appear in an unconscious bias quiz or IAT:
According to IAT test results, the male applicant was more likely to be hired, even though their skills and references were similar. Both candidates should have the same chances to be hired to avoid implicit gender bias.
Nowadays, for someone to be perceived as a hard-working person, it is ingrained in our minds that the person needs to commit to traditional hours at the workplace. In most circumstances, implicit bias should not occur, as long as the person fulfills their job responsibilities.
In this case, the implicit bias involved is called “benevolence bias.” In these circumstances, new mothers may be exempt from international travel, due to a variety of assumptions about being a new mother. While this is unconsciously done as a way to remove added stress, these stereotypes may ultimately affect her career. A better way to handle this situation to avoid bias is to allow for the new mother to decide If she wants to cut back on international travel. Similar biases can occur when male workers decide to embrace their option to take maternity leave since the tradition over the years is for women to take time off under maternity leave.
It is common for employees to become familiar with their colleagues through their professional roles but may not know each other personally. It is an advantage for members of diverse teams to learn about different cultural backgrounds among their teammates. There are so many different ways to encourage employees to learn about each other’s cultural backgrounds.
One way is through cross – cultural communication. Here are tips on conducting such type of communication in group settings:
Welcome everyone and create a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.
Start with the ground rules for participants, and then ask participants to add their own ideas. Refrain from speaking for others. Suspend judgement on what your colleagues share about themselves.
Do not try to push or present your own agenda during a discussion among colleagues. Constantly think about how to move the discussion forward.
Remind participants in group settings, if necessary, that no one can represent his or her entire culture. This will avoid one participant monopolizing the conversation. Each person’s experiences, as an individual and as a member of a group, should be embraced as unique.
Help people appreciate and respect each other’s communication styles. Some cultures value listening more than speaking. In others, taking a stand is of utmost importance. Help participants in group settings to realize there is more than one good way to communicate. Help participants understand that cultural labels, or stereotypes, are usually unfair.
Be sure not to equate cultural experiences among colleagues. If group participants reveal a vulnerable side when talking about their experiences, professional or personal, explain that you respect their feelings and are trying to help all the members of the group understand. Remind people that no one can know exactly what it feels like to be in another person’s shoes.
Sensitivity, empathy, and familiarity with people of different backgrounds are important qualities when you are getting to know your colleagues. If you have not had the opportunity to spend time with people of various backgrounds, get involved with reading, listening to podcasts, watching programs or trainings that can help broaden your understanding of cross-cultural dynamics.
Organizations should have communications plans to ensure regular communication to stakeholders about DEI progress. Such communication can be conveyed through an organization’s flagship publications, websites, podcasts, webinars, and social media.
Human resources personnel should lead the process with development and distribution of a discrimination policy in collaboration with an organization’s Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer (CDEIO). A discrimination policy is a document that outlines an organization’s position in regards to discrimination in hiring and management practices. As organizations grow, they encounter issues that may not be addressed by smaller firms. For example, many employment laws, such as the federal Family Medical Leave Act, apply only to firms of a certain size. There should be a reference in an organization’s discrimination policy about how it mitigates behavior related to unconscious bias.
It is important for employees to be informed of policies their organizations have in place that has an impact on them. Such training should take place annually.
This type of analysis relates to workforce and supplier diversity. Analysis results should reveal how senior leaders of an organization under the leadership of a CDEIO can move forward with recruiting and retention practices to obtain a diverse pool of talent among employees. It also should reveal if they need to obtain a diverse mix of customers to increase its market reach.
Companies these days often attribute their success in part to the development of diverse teams. Gender and ethnic diversity among leadership is important because it encourages diversity of thought. Organizations that don’t include diverse teams may be excluding themselves from developing great ideas or tactics in terms of how to move forward with a strategy. This is a key benefit of having diversity among staff. Income that exceeds an organization’s investments in establishing diverse teams should be determined to reveal the true picture of financial gains.
A common complaint that is noted in employee surveys about DEI practices is that they don’t think that there are equitable opportunities at their organizations for professional development and advancement. Human resource leaders and staff that have supervisory responsibility should commit to informing staff timely about opportunities that can enhance their careers.
Employee Resource groups (ERGs) are employer-recognized, employee-led groups that allow people with shared identities to build a community forum to discuss business and professional goals and share resources. The membership basis is typically formed by marginalized, or minority populations based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability status, parental status, and other defining characteristics. Although there are many benefits with developing employee resource groups, such groups can be perceived as an act of exclusion if there are not groups within an organization that represent all underrepresented groups.
Unconscious bias presents many risks to an organization. Taking steps to overcome its effects can help improve DEI and develop more effective, objective hiring practices — resulting in a more resilient organization where it’s easier for innovation to flourish.
Our hands-on diversity recruiters have deep experience working with private, public, pre-IPO, and non-profit organizations. Clients are typically $50 million in revenue to Fortune 1000’s or have assets between $500 million to $15 billion. Successful placements span the entire C-Suite – CEO, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Financial Officer, and include vice president, general counsel, and other director-level leadership roles.
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