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  • Identify and Eliminate Unconscious Biases to Create a More Inclusive Workplace

    June 15, 2016 | By NACE Staff

    Best Practices
    Three coworkers chat about a project they've just completed.

    As individuals, we have unconscious biases that directly impact our interpretation of reality and can influence our behavior, says Neal Goodman, president of Global Dynamics, Inc.

    “These biases are there because we’ve been raised with them,” Goodman notes. “They are deeply embedded in our brains.”

    Depending on one’s position and responsibilities, these biases can permeate the culture and operations of the organization.

    The most common unconscious biases deal specifically with issues like race, gender, and age. For instance, hiring managers might give greater preference to hiring a candidate with a “white-sounding” name on a resume than a candidate who has an “African American-sounding” name.

    Less common biases might deal with aspects of the biases identified above. For example, extending deeper than gender alone, an organization might unconsciously rate mothers as less competent and committed to paid work than non-mothers. In these organizations, mothers might be less likely than non-mothers to be recommended for hire, promotion, or leadership positions, and receive lower starting salaries.

    This narrow focus can manifest in an organization, thus deeply impacting its culture and the way it operates. For example, Goodman notes, if an organization constantly recruits students from the same schools because their leaders graduated from those universities, it can affect demographics and tends to build groupthink and a mono-cultural, myopic view of the world.

    “They don’t understand that there could be so many more potential opportunities because they’re so locked into one view, one perspective,” he says. “On the other hand, organizations that are more diverse and inclusive are more successful and more profitable.”

    Goodman explains that studies show that having more diversity gives organizations more ideas, and increases innovation and creativity. Furthermore, he says, employees at organizations that are more inclusive rate their companies’ engagement scores higher and have greater employee retention rates than those that are deemed not inclusive.

    “The push to identify and neutralize unconscious biases has become more common because it’s in the news and we are becoming more sensitized to it,” he says. “It used to be that companies would pride themselves on being part of the old boys’ network and having a mono-cultural perspective. In today’s environment, the culturally and geographically diverse marketplace and workplace are the new reality.”

    The bottom line in this pursuit is, indeed, the bottom line.

    “Organizations are beginning to see the profitability of being more inclusive,” Goodman says. “It’s really being done because of enlightened self-interest. Companies are becoming aware of the fact that if they’re more inclusive, they will be more profitable and they will be retaining better employees longer.”

    The first step toward neutralizing or eliminating unconscious biases is bringing them out into the light.

    “People don’t know what they don’t know,” Goodman says. “You need to be aware of the fact that you’re interpreting behaviors and making decisions based on these unconscious beliefs that you have. Therefore, you can become more mindful of them.”

    One way to do this is through an automated exercise called the Implicit Association Test, which allows users to test their own implicit biases.

    At an organizational level, a diversity audit can review and assess policies, processes, and procedures for biases. Furthermore, an on-site assessment can allow the auditor to get a sense of the culture first-hand, and even reach deeper to identify micro-inequities, which are barely noticeable expressions of bias, such as body language, facial expressions, word choice, or tone of voice. For example, during meetings, a white manager may look down when a person of color looks at him, which may signal a lack of interest or respect.

    “The problem with many programs is that they make you aware of your organization’s biases, but they don’t help you do anything about it,” Goodman notes. “It’s crucial that not only do you become aware of any unconscious biases, but that you spend time with your co-workers discussing what you will do about changing how you act, how you think, and what you’re going to do.”

    Then, your organization can take steps to eliminate the opportunity for bias. For example, a company Goodman worked with recently was noticed that a far greater number of male candidates were being offered interviews than women.

    “After discussion, their determination was to eliminate the names from all of the resumes they receive so the team that reviews the resumes will not know whether the candidate is a male or a female,” Goodman says.

    “It’s important for organizations to be diverse and inclusive, and to eliminate their unconscious biases. This isn’t new; in fact, for companies that have been aware of and able to eliminate their unconscious biases, doing so has been the secret to their success.”