An organisation is often considered a summation of individuals working towards individual goals to achieve org-level goals. For an organisation to be sustainable and prosperous it must achieve balance and harmony above all. organisations in today’s global world are representative of the collective human race and the workplace portrays this ideology. For all its components to work together in unison, organisations should rely on promoting diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) in the workplace.
Fostering a culture of holistic employee well-being through DEIB
The importance of the role that the workplace plays in an individual’s overall well-being has been clearly established and recognized. The onset of the pandemic has exacerbated issues like mental and physical well-being which has made it even more critical that employers care for their people in ways that are rooted in empathy and compassion. With challenges at hand greater than ever before, organisations need to develop a holistic approach toward ensuring employee well-being. Any organisation willing to start this long journey must realize the significance of DEIB in employees’ overall well-being because these are interlocked. One of the biggest threats to wellness is the issue of the “emotional tax” that employees pay when they are in an environment that makes them feel different and unwelcome.
Workplaces that foster DEIB have enhanced employee well-being and higher levels of well-being make employees more inclusive. Cultivating a culture of DEIB promotes self-affirmation and self-esteem in employees which leads to professional achievement and job satisfaction. When employees experience holistic wellness, the results are higher engagement, more innovation, greater levels of comfort, and increased loyalty.
To achieve a culture of DEIB, employers must also identify and remove obstacles that prevent it. One of the biggest deterrents to this goal is the existence of unconscious biases in the workplace.
What are unconscious biases and why is it hard to mitigate them at an organisational level?
Unconscious biases are learned assumptions, beliefs, or attitudes that exist in an individual’s subconscious. We use them as mental shortcuts to process information faster and everyone has them. Often, these biases also reinforce stereotypes in our minds that we aren’t necessarily aware of. The unmanaged presence of unconscious biases can lead to a hostile work environment, slow down employee development, impair diversity, and drive-up attrition. But controlling and managing these biases in the workplace is one of the most difficult tasks an organisation can undertake.
Firstly, they are not easy to spot and take a long time to be fixed. Studies done by the University of Washington and Yale show that stereotypes rooted in unconscious biases affect 90-95% of people and they begin to form early in childhood. The potential for prejudice is hard-wired into human cognition. At the individual level, the extent to which such biases are internalized and acted on varies widely and in complex ways. Unconscious bias acknowledgment and training is therefore the first step so that things get brought out in the open. Continuous view on this is key. If it is not rigorously run, the presence of unconscious biases will hamper individual and company growth.
Secondly, managing unconscious biases through short-term and infrequent interventions can be counterproductive. It’s extremely difficult to change unconscious biases through a few educational interactions. For organisations, holding training sessions and events, trying to help people not to be biased, and providing numerical goals and guidelines to hire and promote gender and ethnic minorities, often do not bring results. Additionally, organisational studies show that when employees feel like they’re being controlled, they tend to react negatively.
Most widely adopted efforts to manage unconscious biases at the workplace yield no or negative results because they focus on the conscious mind. They do not address how people instinctively feel about others of different backgrounds.
Managing unconscious biases to nurture belonging in the organisation
Any organisation willing to start this journey must begin with labelling and naming the types of biases that can occur. Managing the identified biases at the workplace can only be achieved through a focus on changing systems and not only individuals, which needs to start at the top - with the leadership. The leaders of the organisation need to undergo effective programs that make them aware through intensive and transformational experiences. Training leaders will help them model the behavioral and procedural changes that are required to bring down the biases. At the InMobi Group, we facilitate this through iLead, a four-month-long training program for first-time managers, that builds self-awareness and instills leadership traits in our future leaders. There is an unflinching focus on individual coaching as well and we as an organisation are true to our goal of being a group of people that are more aware of themselves and that our leaders get all the direction needed on a 1:1 basis for them be a better version of themselves.
Once the leadership has been made aware, the change process must flow down to the implementation of company policies and programs designed to mitigate bias through all stages of the employee’s journey. From selection processes to performance ratings and promotion decisions. These structures are important in ensuring that any individual’s own bias is limited and does not influence decisions at an organisational level and therefore, these structures should also be audited regularly.
Setting goals that are specific to the organisation’s needs and context will help in completing this process effectively. Data is key to buy-in, and organisations can increase accountability by collecting and analyzing data on diversity over time, comparing the numbers with established benchmarks, and sharing them with key stakeholders internally and externally.
At the employee level, encouraging empathy and interactions with others and diverse groups is the key to mitigating unconscious biases. The negative associations people have with various groups can be overcome by exposing them to an abundance of positive ones. The more people see and experience positive associations with a group of people, the more their instinctive responses to that group turn positive.
Unconscious bias training must include practical elements that enable meaningful action back in the workplace. It must be done in person and should be anchored in both situational and environmental contexts. Similarly, images, forums, and experiences that celebrate people from various groups in a positive light, can be helpful.
Fighting biases at the workplace to hire and retain talent
Hiring as diversely as possible is the first step of a long-term investment in uprooting unconscious biases prevalent in the organisation and thereby fostering DEIB. The presence of diverse individuals in the workplace directly contributes to a positive culture that promotes belonging. Diversity in hiring talent also has direct outcomes for the business. A study by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found that diverse teams produce 19% more revenue. Such benefits make it imperative for organisations to implement strategies that fight unconscious biases that exist in talent acquisition, talent management, and employee retention processes.
Employers must establish control mechanisms in the talent acquisition processes. One example is that this can be achieved by anonymous resume audits and ensuring diversity in the feedback shared by candidates during the recruitment process. Hiring managers should be made aware of their unconscious biases and trained to carry out structured interviews with the same set of defined questions and evaluation criteria for each candidate. The InMobi Group achieves this by following a completely gender-neutral hiring process.
Once an employee joins the organisation they can be offered mentorship to increase engagement and improve retention. Active employee resource groups (ERGs) can also help employees to find the peer support they require to experience inclusion and belonging. These are especially important for employees coming from a minority group. Winspire, the InMobi Group’s ERG for women, aims to help women employees in finding whatever support they require to achieve their potential. Additionally, survey and focus groups of current and previous employees, where the discussion is framed around fairness and inclusivity, can also help in examining the DEIB strategy from time to time.
The benefits of fostering a DEIB culture extend to all aspects of the organisation - from employee well-being to more success in the business goals. To achieve this, organisations must move beyond diversity programs and work towards removing the most prevalent obstacle to DEIB - the stereotypes emerging from unconscious biases in the workplace. Establishing a long-term framework and mindset to mitigate unconscious biases at the workplace is key. It is deep work that involves accepting uncomfortable truths, establishing long-term frameworks for mitigation, and supporting employees to interact more inclusively.