How HR Can Help Eliminate Bias

How HR Can Help Eliminate Bias

A few weeks ago, HR Drive reported that #SHRM18 keynote speaker Sheryl Sandberg made powerful comments on bias that had a lasting effect on employees. As the last keynote speaker of the conference, Sandberg pointedly noted that bias can block real discussion about inclusion, and employed HR to lead the charge in eliminating bias and creating meaningful discussion.

“It is not equal for women. It is not equal for people of color,” Sandberg told the crowd. “It is not equal for mothers. If you are a black mother who is working, you have all the biases against you.”

We’ve discussed at length Personify’s core commitment to promoting diversity in the workplace, internally and externally, via our core principles and our relationship with the Triangle Diversity Business Council. What Sandberg’s comments highlight is that frequently our biases are deeply ingrained to the point of going unnoticed, and not all bias openly presents itself, even in the presence of diversity.

-frequently our biases are deeply ingrained to the point of going unnoticed, and not all bias openly presents itself, even in the presence of diversity.Click To Tweet

Workplace bias is both a hurdle in bringing diversity to a workplace and creating a comfortable work environment. Thankfully, research has proven that workplaces can tackle bias through policy. In this entry of Insights, we’ll discuss essential findings that define what bias is, how it affects the workplace, and what companies can do to eliminate it before it causes destruction and wreaks havoc on company culture.

Implicit Bias

Bias can present itself in many forms, both explicitly and implicitly.

Ohio State University’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity defines implicit bias as follows:

“-the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control. Residing deep in the subconscious, these biases are different from known biases that individuals may choose to conceal for the purposes of social and/or political correctness.  Rather, implicit biases are not accessible through introspection.”

Furthermore, similar to Sandberg’s comments, the Kirwan Institute writes that these implicit associations cause us to have feelings and attitudes toward other people based on uncontrollable factors, such as age, race, ethnicity and appearance. Implicit bias doesn’t happen overnight, but rather cultivates over a lifetime through exposure to direct and indirect messages.

Implicit bias doesn’t happen overnight, but rather cultivates over a lifetime through exposure to direct and indirect messages.Click To Tweet

Explicit bias is more more obvious and easy to spot and eradicate, should it make itself known in a workplace. For example, no employer should (and hopefully would not) tolerate outward expressions of racism or sexism.

Demographic diversity, as defined by research in Out of Sight but Not Out of Mind: Managing Invisible Social Identities in the Workplace by Judith Clair, Joy E. Beatty, and Tammy L. MacLean, is as any characteristic that serves as a basis for social categorization and self-identification. Demographic diversity falls into two types: visible and nonvisible. Visible characteristics of categorization include things like race, gender, or age. Nonvisible characteristics include sexuality, club memberships, or illness.

To understand the significance of both types of characteristics, the researchers suggest imagining the following: a candidate goes to a job interview with a hiring manager. To make small talk, the hiring manager remarks on how tan the potential hire looks and asks if they just returned from vacation. The potential hire is unsure of how to respond. They frequently get remarks like this because of their Caucasian features when in reality, they are multiracial, and the tan color is just the color of their skin. The potential job hire must weigh potentially embarrassing the hiring manager by revealing their multiracial background or staying silent and hiding their identity.

Noting research by Dr. Taylor Cox, Clair, Beatty and Maclean write,

“The consequences of stigma in the workplace are readily quantified: the literature on organizational diversity documents how women, racial minorities, older workers, and others bearing a stigmatized identity have suffered job loss, limited career advancement, difficulty finding a mentor, and isolation at work.”

These findings prove the subconscious nature of implicit bias is insidious and dangerous to the workplace. Our lack of awareness of our biases can present itself in ways that may be damaging to others and disrupt team cohesion through stigma.

How to Address

HR must confront bias by serving as the gatekeeper of policies that actively seek to eliminate implicit bias.

An inclusive workplace needs to define diversity both within the limits of a company while taking into consideration outside factors (such as institutions like sexism or racism). In Managing Diversity: Toward a Globally Inclusive Workplace, author Michalle E. Mor Barak defines an inclusive workforce through several factors:

  • Placing value on individual and intergroup differences within a workforce
  • Cooperation with, and contributing to, the surrounding community
  • Alleviating the needs of disadvantaged groups in a company’s wider environment
  • Collaborating with individuals, groups, and organizations across national and cultural boundaries
An inclusive workplace needs to define diversity both within the limits of a company while taking into consideration outside factors (such as institutions like sexism or racism).Click To Tweet

We have taken steps toward building an inclusive environment by expanding leadership roles to be more gender-diverse. The diversity of thought from the top down is now influencing our business strategy and has positively impacted our revenue and culture.

Furthermore, our gender diversity in leadership positions extends beyond our executive team. Of our seven employee-led committees, women lead five of these groups. We expand the decision-making power to different levels of the organization by championing specific initiatives and developing organization-wide solutions to help Personify continually improve.

These are examples of how our company actively seeks to tackle bias, though the work is ongoing. With this in mind, now is the time for HR to act boldly and closely examine company policies to determine how it confronts bias and what it does to build cohesion.

Knowing that bias can be deeply ingrained in an employee’s subconscious, policies must address bias by confronting it head-on. As HR professionals, we must always remember the human element of our role and our duty to bring workplaces together. Commit to fostering diversity and nurture inclusion through education and by openly discussing implicit biases and stigma.

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