Interrupting Biases Beneath the Surface
Given the heightened discussions over the past several years about diversity in the workplace, one key misconception is the role biases play. Some may think biases are only a concern when race and gender is involved, while others may think someone is a bad person if they hold biases. Both of these assumptions are far from the truth.
Everyone has biases. A bias is a systemic mindset that can permeate through worldviews and perspectives based on stories told about ourselves and others in order for us to feel safe.
The danger is not in having biases — it is not realizing how your biases influence your thoughts and decisions, particularly in moments that matter in the workplace. If biases are left unchecked, they will eventually manifest as surprising curveballs and unexpected blindspots, no matter how well intentioned you may be.
Biases, particularly subconscious ones, can have a lasting impact on how leaders and colleagues connect, and particularly, how they make important decisions. For example: hiring candidates, employee recognition, and promotions/career advancement can all be influenced by biases.
Workplace bias runs deeper than surface level interactions with colleagues, primarily because they impact more than just an employee's day-to-day experience.
For a company, collective unchecked, unacknowledged biased decisions of key stakeholders could impact your organization’s reputation — and potentially its bottom line.
Here are five ways you can interrupt biases head-on within your organization:
Go Deeper Than Surface Level to Understand How Biases Show Up
There’s a common misconception that when organizations discuss diversity-related topics, it is only about race and gender. This leads to this idea that only race and gender biases exist. For example, people can be biased towards individuals that went to a rival college, have similar hobbies, or similar childhood experiences. One must understand that most biases are unconscious and, only in learning more about oneself and how one thinks, can one reveal latent biases. Ongoing bias awareness training and finding opportunities to discuss how biases show up at a deeper level during team meetings can allay harmful biases.
Related Article: Deciding How to Decide
Ensure Leadership Is Aligned on What Biases Are and Are Not
Make sure there is alignment on the definition of biases and how their habits can either reinforce or disrupt biased thinking. Help leaders understand that biases are a natural part of how humans make “fight or flight” decisions. While having biases is not necessarily a bad thing, failing to curb them during key moments in the workplace can create unintentional harm. One simple way to interrupt biases is to ask one of the two following questions when making important decisions:
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- Is anyone’s voice missing from the conversation?
- What else should be considered?
Asking these questions creates intentional pause in leadership moments that matter. While a pause doesn’t necessarily lead to different answers, it's a powerful tactic to foster inclusive decision-making.
Help Employees Understand the Impacts and Nuances of Cognitive Biases and How They Can Surface
For example, an employee may not be aware they ask the same two people to lunch on a team of nine. This unintentionally excludes others. They may not also realize they are acting more harshly (or showing more lenience) towards a colleague that reminds them of someone in their personal circle. This unintentionally creates harm/shows favoritism.
A heightened level of bias awareness will increase a team's ability to recognize and collectively counteract those that are harmful.
Related Article: The Tech Industry's Unconscious Bias Problem
Incorporate Ongoing Bias Workshops as Part of Your Team’s Learning Journey
Developing or rolling out “mandatory, one-and-donedone” diversity or inclusion workshops rarely work. Creating a robust inclusion program with ongoing messaging to raise awareness is critical to ensure that identifying and disrupting biases eventually become habitually and culturally normalized.
Seek to Develop and Retain Underrepresented Colleagues Across All Types of Roles in Your Organization
It’s not enough to proactively recruit underrepresented employees. Create a retention plan that caters to understanding the challenges of underrepresented employees and leaders. Many organizations view high performers as individuals who demonstrate not only competence but also confidence. Studies have shown that underrepresented employees that display both competence and confidence face double standards, with confidences sometimes being perceived negatively. Confidence being weaponized against women of color, for example, is a direct result of unconscious biases. Ensuring underrepresented employees not only have a voice in your decision making processes, but also acknowledge the unique challenges that they may face in their careers. Employees typically stay at organizations that they feel safe, supported, and have pathways to grow their careers.
Recognizing and addressing biases is a critical enabler in successful future work. If done well, managing biases not only helps generate an inclusive work culture, but can fundamentally become a superpower that differentiates your company from the rest.
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About the Author
Christie Lindor is the CEO of Tessi Consulting, a Certified B Corporation focused on helping leaders that want to create diverse, high performing and inclusive cultures, but do not know where to start. Prior to Tessi, Christie was a seasoned management consultant advising Fortune 500 clients at some of the world’s top firms such as IBM, Deloitte and EY.