Recognising And Eliminating Bias In The Workplace

Tanya Pinto
Recognising And Eliminating Bias In The Workplace

If you think the senior executives at your organization are bias-free, think again.

At the workplace, business decisions and employee performance reviews are often clouded by bias. Employees use stereotypical beliefs when interacting with each other- while leaders are unconsciously partial towards their ‘favourite’ employees. If you want to know more about how to eliminate bias in your organization, we have some tips. 

What’s the similarity attraction bias all about?

This bias is manifested when people connect quickly and better with those who are most similar to themselves. Like the old saying goes: birds of a feather, flock together. This means that, without even realising it, we probably already have favourites at the workplace, and have pre-determined ideas about who is a good employee or not.

Organizations around the world are taking notice: The National Bureau of Economic Research in USA conducted a field experiment on labour market discrimination, and the results are startling. It discovered that “Job applicants with white names needed to send about 10 resumes to get one callback; those with African-American names needed to send around 15 resumes to get one callback.” Alarmed with this finding, UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron declared that UK’s university admissions service will conduct “name-blind” applications from 2017. Organizations like the civil service, BBC, NHS, KPMG, HSBC, Deloitte and Virgin Money followed suit. The point being made is clear: successful organizations acknowledge the existence of bias in making decisions, and want to do something about it. 

Why bias is bad for businesses

Curbs diversity: As can be easily deduced from how bias works, it results in people from similar backgrounds and identities eventually sidelining anyone who’s different. This could be disastrous for business, as the team has limited skill and cultural diversity– which eventually will affect overall productivity.

Obscures flaws: Bias could affect the way we review the performance of employees. For example, it would lead to certain employees to be evaluated more favourably than others. As the said employee’s flaws thus remain hidden, it becomes difficult to work on improving performance and developing better skills. 

How to eliminate bias at your organization

Identify the bias hotspots:  Firstly, have a look at all the processes and procedures that occur in your organization. From making hiring decisions to analysing employee performances, identify the processes which rely highly on human interaction and judgment. It’s likely that these are the most bias-ridden. Additionally, you can survey employees to examine employee opinions about how inclusive they feel the workplace is.

Talk about the problem: Due to the nature of human psychology, it’s almost inevitable to have some or the other sort of bias at play in the office. However, it’s important to acknowledge that this problem exists, as trying to cover up the presence of bias can be highly counterproductive. Engage senior executives and managers in discussing the impact of bias, and together develop new practices and tips to increase impartiality. Azmat Mohammed, director general of the Institute of Recruiters said, “the reality is that people carrying out interviews, at the next stage on from applications, are humans. The thing is for them to be able to analyse their own biases. Everybody has them and businesses are working to address this issue.”

Involve everyone in designing a solution: Once the main bias-prone processes have been identified, engage all relevant team members to design a solution. Decide what the best way forward would be, to reduce partiality and boost fairness. For example, Deloitte has introduced a new graduate selection method in order to reduce “unconscious bias.” Recruiters at Deloitte will now not know where candidates went to school or university. Depending on your organization’s functioning, develop innovative solutions to tackle bias. 

Increase awareness: Prevention is always more convenient than cure, so invest resources in increasing your team’s awareness about how bias affects the organization. Encourage better communication and relationship-building between employees of various backgrounds, to lessen pre-determined notions. Additionally, those in charge of evaluating employee performances should acknowledge the possibility of their decisions being influenced by bias, and should consciously work to avoid it. 

Review the results: Once you’ve adopted strategies to eliminate bias at the workplace, review how effective these have been. The best way to do this would be to use data from employee opinions, experiences and feedback, which can provide a much more objective outlook about how effective the anti-bias measures have been. 

Key takeaway: Bias at the workplace affect skill diversity and impacts overall productivity. Acknowledge and identify where bias exists in your organization. Use data from employee opinions and involve team members to design solutions to improve fairness. 

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