As per Deloitte’s 2019 State of Inclusion Survey, of the 3000 individuals surveyed, nearly 64% felt that they had experienced bias in the workplace in the last year! Most of these people believed that while progress has been made in making organizations more inclusive, bias still existed. This is a particularly disturbing statistic considering that bias is the biggest barrier to building a diverse and inclusive organization.
This makes strategies for overcoming unconscious biases even more critical. While self-awareness and understanding of biases is the basic first step in overcoming biases, they are sometimes so deeply ingrained that just awareness and training is not enough. Of course, training is still the most effective way of overcoming biases. People across organizations and hierarchies need to undergo training to overcome their personal biases.
However, a one-time training event is not good enough. Overcoming biases involves a change in the mindset, and this requires continuous reinforcement through training and leadership action.
However, since unconscious biases are deeply ingrained, it is critical to look at each step of the employee life cycle and bring in process and systems in place that will help overcome these biases.
Let’s look at each stage of the employee life cycle and understand best practices to overcome biases:
This is the first stage when a prospective employee interacts with the organization. Biases in the hiring process are a very well-known phenomenon. Affinity bias, halo/horn effect, conformity bias come into play often.
Here are some ways to make the recruitment process bias free:
- Make Job Descriptions bias free by eliminating gender, age or ability related specific requirements.
- Sourcing candidates should be from diverse institutions so that a diverse pool of talent is available to the organization.
- Use blind resumes for the initial screening process so that biases related to age, gender, ability, region, race etc. do not come into play.
- Use technology like AI for initial screening to eliminate biases. However, technology should be used carefully since data that is the primary source of AI decision-making can itself be biased to begin with.
- Train recruiters and hiring managers on becoming aware of their personal biases and provide strategies for managing them.
- Use standardized questions in the interview process, ensure that the questions or the language of questions is not biased e.g. asking the marital status of a candidate
- Having a diverse interview panel rather than a single person or a set of similar people making the hiring decision will build diversity into the hiring process.
- Using valid and reliable psychometric assessments is another way of ensuring biases are eliminated. Psychometric assessments only take into account competencies of an individual and not gender, sexual orientation, age etc. However, it is important that these assessments are interpreted by trained professionals since understanding human behaviors is a complex science.
After a candidate becomes a part of the organization, this is where everyday inclusion plays an important role. Every employee must have equal opportunities for development and growth. However, the road to equality comes from equity. Equity in everyday practices ensure that each employee is enabled based on their unique requirements so that they are enabled to benefit from equal opportunities. For example, providing work from home facility to a parent of a young child is providing equity, but ensuring they are given equal development and project opportunities is equality. Equality and equity go hand in hand.
Here are some of the areas that should be considered for eliminating bias during development:
- Ensure a competency-based approach to development since competencies eliminate subjective decisions by managers.
- Analyzing diversity data related to learning and development to ensure that all diverse groups benefit from learning initiatives.
- Make learning accessible to all. This plays a particularly important role in inclusion of the differently abled, their learning needs should be kept in mind while designing learning interventions.
- Mentoring and coaching opportunities by managers should be available to all. This is a slightly more difficult aspect to address and requires managers to be trained on practicing inclusive behaviors while dealing with team members on a daily basis.
This step in the employee life cycle is crucial. Employees need to feel engaged on an everyday basis to be retained in the organization. Engagement comes from all processes in the organization being inclusive.
Here are some ways of achieving it:
- Managers need to be trained extensively to ensure that the everyday experience in the workplace is an inclusive one for all employees. Subtle biases like managers spending more time with team members of the same gender should be avoided.
- Organizations should encourage and train employees to use inclusive language have a zero-tolerance policy towards bullying or harassment. Most biases are exhibited in the form of language and is therefore critical to address.
- Employee resource groups are another way of eliminating bias and making a workplace inclusive. These groups create a safe place for diverse groups to discuss and share their challenges and experiences. However, a best practice is to keep these groups open for all while focusing on a specific diverse group.
- Allyship is another way of eliminating biases and making a workplace inclusive. Having a strong network of allies make informal interactions free from biases and more inclusive. Allies are the ones who ensure that simple things like water cooler conversations are not excluding or degrading certain groups.
- Develop a strong psychological contract. This is an implicit understanding that all people will be treated fairly and honestly. People will be recognized for their contributions without biases like likeability and affinity coming to play.
- Ensure policies and process are bias free. Leave and travel policy, benefits, policy on work from home and flexibility should be looked at with a close lens to ensure that do not leave out any of the diverse groups in the organization. D&I Champions should work closely with the business and leadership to ensure all policies and practices are in-line with the organizational D&I goals.
Ensuring that biases do not negatively affect the employee experience is an ongoing and continuous effort. Training people on biases and ensuring that process and policies are bias free are a critical aspect of truly making a workplace bias-free.