When I talked to a gender-bias researcher at a prestigious U.S. university off the record, she informed me that I should not take my success for granted. Based on the researcher’s experience, being a short woman in Corporate America requires that I'm twice as smart, twice as competent and twice as hardworking as a tall white man.
It's not like people readily believe that tall white men naturally make better leaders. But that's the thing about unconscious bias—it's an automatic attitude or perception about a person based on a single attribute like gender, ethnicity, race or sexual orientation that we are unaware we have and act upon.
Unconscious bias is as old as human beings, as our ancestors developed it to quickly categorize threats in a hostile environment. In other words, we usually don’t have ill intentions when we discriminate.
The good news is that people are getting better at spotting subtle bias at work, as well as mastering business process improvement techniques and strategies that root it out before it does too much damage to a company's culture.
Let's examine a few places bias at work commonly show up.
You may not realize it, but people don't review resumes and profiles on merit alone. When unconscious bias creeps in, we can negatively assess a candidate based on their name, address, photo or educational institution.
Therefore, you may want to consider using software to blind your applicants' resumes, profiles and sample interview tasks. It could be the first element of your business improvement plan and a way to help curb bias at work. Don't reveal full candidate details until your recruiters or hiring managers have the opportunity to get to know them as an individual.
Unstructured interviews are not a solid predictor of employee performance for many reasons, but one is surely the subtle bias that can come from them. When people chat informally with candidates, the conversation may proceed in a direction that takes away from the candidate's relevant attributes.
Your business process improvement plan should combat selection bias by including a new interview approach that asks every candidate the same questions, in the same order, according to the same evaluation criteria. You might also consider using a video-based chatbot assessment of interviewer speech and body language to check for potential bias there.
Group Meeting Dynamics
You can use business process improvement methodology to mitigate the effects of unconscious bias during meetings.
Recognize that in group gatherings, people tend to ask women to take notes more often than men, and women are more frequently the victims of cross-talk and credit stealing (that is, men speaking over them or co-opting their ideas).
Leaders must make a concerted effort to ensure that they acknowledge women's contributions equally. (This may involve changing the way you structure meetings.)
Business communication is becoming more informal, and that increasingly can make workplace dynamics dangerous as people get looser about what they say and how they say it.
Thankfully, artificial intelligence can help you make business process improvements here. Certain document creation software, for instance, provides guidance on potentially sensitive or offensive language (e.g. “May the best man win") contained in a presentation, and others can scans text for inappropriately gendered pronouns as part of a general grammar check.
When people only have contact with their ingroup—or other people who share our demographic and/or psychographic characteristics—they tend to perpetuate unconscious bias. To address bias at work, strategize business process improvements that will diversify your team both traditionally (gender, ethnicity, race, etc.) and cognitively (point of view, background, etc.). This might mean recruiting teammates from new sources and devising ways to bring forward talented individuals who aren't perfect candidates on paper.
...Combat selection bias by including a new interview approach that asks every candidate the same questions, in the same order, according to the same evaluation criteria.
Business process improvement targeted to unconscious bias are, without question, worth the investment. But if you question your need to make them, spend a few minutes at the Project Implicit website. Designed by Harvard, University of Virginia and University of Washington psychologists, the site administers Implicit Association Tests to measure personal bias. If you're unpleasantly surprised at what you uncover, you might gain motivation to address this critical issue.
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