Bias in the workplace can be deeply harmful for any organization. Between turning away talented employees, hurting diversity, and lowering morale, bias can prevent organizations from achieving their goals and reaching their full potential.
Unconscious bias is one of the most damaging forms of bias, yet can be the hardest to address. Based on diversity and inclusion initiatives from SDC CPAs founder, Dee Studler, SDC CPAs has compiled the following suggestions for recognizing and eliminating unconscious bias in the workplace.
Carefully Plan Diversity Programs
While mandatory diversity training may be used effectively, it is a well-documented phenomenon that mandatory diversity programming can create resentment and fuel bias, rather than eliminating it. Other options, such as incentivized or voluntary diversity programming, tend to inspire and encourage employees to recognize and address bias themselves.
Another key piece of diversity programming is knowing when to rely on experts. When in-house leadership does not have sufficient knowledge or perspective to authentically and effectively discuss an issue, it may be critical to rely on a guest speaker’s perspective and expertise to communicate the message.
Create a Culture of Inclusion
Ultimately, the goal of any diversity programming is to help employees recognize bias and become advocates for inclusion. One tool that can help employees and leadership realize and confront their own biases is Harvard’s Project Implicit, a collection of quick tests that assess individuals’ unconscious bias or automatic preference. Seeing these results can spur action and inspire change.
Leadership’s commitment to diversity is essential for any workplace to improve its handling of bias. Listening to and addressing employees’ ideas and concerns is a major part of demonstrating the organization’s commitment to inclusion. Affecting company culture may start with surveying employee attitudes toward diversity and methods for reporting instances of bias. Having proper channels to ensure employees are comfortable with reporting and discussing bias can be crucial for advocacy and empowerment.
Reduce Individual Input
Companies can work to mitigate the effects of individual unconscious bias by making structural changes. In hiring, for example, technology can be used to find and hire the best candidates without an individual’s bias working against them. Additionally, personnel decisions come with supporting data and explanations. These decisions being made without sufficient justification can be a sign of bias and should be evaluated.
Assessing the diversity of programs and initiatives can be another crucial step for uncovering bias. For example, mentoring programs that rely upon an individual approaching a mentor tend to favor white employees and male employees. Creating a more formal structure could mitigate bias in these circumstances.
Recognizing and addressing workplace bias takes sustained effort and commitment—there is no one-size-fits-all solution. With time and attention, however, organizations can achieve a more equitable, inclusive future.