Unconscious bias: 4 ways leaders can fight it

Unconscious bias: 4 ways leaders can fight it

Workplace diversity doesn’t happen on its own: It has to be cultivated and nurtured by addressing unconscious bias in the organization. Here are four ways leaders can take action

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Are you biased in your view of others?

If you’re like most people, you’ll probably say, “Of course not!” But the truth is, bias exists in all of us, at least to some degree.

The term “unconscious bias” describes our tendency to judge or classify others through characteristics that are not valid – for example, thinking that men are better at math, or someone with an uncommon name is more likely to speak English as a second language.

Studies consistently show that bias in the workplace has severe repercussions on organizations and the well-being of their employees. Nearly half of Black and Latina women working in science, for example, report that they’ve been mistaken for custodial or administrative staff while at work.

[ For more on fostering diversity, read: How to build a more diverse IT team. ]

There’s an economic toll as well: Experts estimate that organizations lose more than $64 billion annually as a result of workplace bias.

Further, evidence suggests that diversity leads to better profits by giving organizations a broader range of perspectives and ideas that help drive innovation.

This kind of diversity doesn’t happen on its own: It has to be cultivated and nurtured by addressing unconscious bias in the organization. Business leaders have to increase their own awareness that may be influencing decisions.

Here are four ways to address bias and nurture diversity in an organization:

Challenge your thinking

The first step is to be aware of our personal unconscious biases. Before you make a decision that affects someone else, flip the script: Ask yourself if your decision would be the same if the person was another gender or race.

In meetings, notice any team members who aren’t participating and encourage them to add to the conversation. When leaders show that they are open to hearing different perspectives, team members are much more likely to engage.

Before you make a decision that affects someone else, flip the script: Ask yourself if your decision would be the same if the person was another gender or race.

Speak up

Business leaders and team members alike should feel comfortable talking about bias and should be given a comfortable, welcoming space to share any concerns. Whether this is achieved through diversity training, a company book club, or a Slack channel, providing a space for people to talk about bias introduces new perspectives and viewpoints that may otherwise not be considered. Likewise, encouraging discussion from everyone in the room during meetings and client interactions will help you glean valuable insights.

Implement hiring safeguards

Go beyond career websites and online applications and look for more out-of-the-box ways to diversify your talent pool. Partner with minority groups and organizations that can help source untapped talent. Perform blind resume reviews so personal information like name and gender aren’t immediately obvious. Eliminating demographic information gives hiring managers a blank slate and helps prevent stereotyping from creeping into the interview process.

Foster top-down company values

Your company’s values and mission statement should be a living, evolving part of its operations and workplace culture. From the hiring process throughout day-to-day operations, every employee should strive to maintain those values. It is virtually impossible to establish a fair, just, and ethical workplace without ensuring that those values start at the top. Embody these principles in your leadership and your team will follow suit.

Creating an atmosphere in which employees practice awareness and feel free to speak up about bias will help facilitate discussion and ideas about the best ways to engage within your organization. When team members feel valued, heard, and respected, they thrive – and in turn, the company thrives.

[ Want more on trends in IT talent? Read the Harvard Business Review Analytic Services report: IT Talent Strategy: New Tactics for a New Era. ]

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Stephanie Sponsel has more than 10 years of experience in the operations field. As the current chief operations officer for netlogx, she manages the budgets, statements of work, and contracts in addition to monthly reporting for executives and the company as a whole.

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