Inclusion in the workplace is a significant goal for many organizations, but can also be a difficult one to achieve. At times, biases– conscious or unconscious, impact our ability to be truly inclusive. Bias at work can appear just about anywhere, but most often in recruiting, screening, performance reviews and feedback, coaching and development, and promotions. In fact, a Pew Research Center survey found that 4 out of 10 think there are double standards for women seeking the highest levels of leadership in politics or business.
According to a lot of research and subject matter experts, investing in diversity training has been a waste of resources. Behavioral science tells us that it's very hard to eliminate our biases, but we can redesign organizations to circumvent them.
In an attempt to seek a practical approach to a bias-free workplace and create an equitable workplace, here is an interview with Bron Williams, a Bias Specialist and is on a journey to make bias conscious in the corporate environment. Brown feels that rather than aiming to eliminate unconscious bias, we should accept we are a result of our environment and inherently biased. We are better served making those biases conscious, and developing targeted strategies to drive successful growth and change.
Here is an excerpt from the interview:
Q: Organizations put a huge amount of effort into improving diversity and equality but are still falling short. Are they doing the wrong things, not trying hard enough, or both?
One of the failings of organizations, and people as a whole, is the desire to have a ’quick fix’. And so, corporations run diversity training and have D&I champions. They ‘tick the box’ and feel that having provided training, things will automatically change. But all change is incremental. Bit by bit. It takes time. Companies must see addressing diversity and equality as an ongoing exercise. Looking for, identifying, and addressing bias must become a front-of-mind attitude, especially when making decisions.
Q: Most diversity programs don’t change attitudes, let alone behavior. What do you think is missing to complete the puzzle?
Too many diversity programs can leave people feeling guilty about their attitudes. Some even feel shame. No-one is willing to change because they feel guilty or ashamed. In fact, people are much more likely to be resistant to any kind of change if a program stirs up these sorts of emotions.
The key is to help people understand that bias is part of the human condition– and it’s a bias that lies behind all the forms of discrimination that diversity and inclusion programs seek to address. As we normalize the conversation around bias – everyone has biases – then we are more able to address the attitudes that bias fosters. I’m not convinced that people intend to be biased or discriminatory, but their unconscious perspectives automatically respond to triggers that then allow them to hurt and discriminate. Understanding bias can be the circuit breaker.
Q: How do you design a program around managers’ biases?
An initial step I recommend for companies is to undertake a ‘bias’ audit. Undertaking a bias audit is the foundational step in improving trust, building equity, and increasing productivity, all of which yield greater profitability. A bias audit engages an independent party to evaluate and uncover system and cultural issues, to identify what is working well and where there are desired and critical areas for improvement; it is a vital risk management tool for business, boards, and leadership teams who are charged with navigating real improvement in these areas.
A bias audit enables business owners, boards, and leadership teams to:
- Evaluate disparity in staff recruitment, retention, and relationships between policy and practice.
- Identify gaps and fissures in the documentation, procedures, and structures, including complaints handling success.
- Determine whether past training has produced the desired ongoing results in areas touched by bias.
From the audit, a business is able to more clearly see where biases lie, and which biases are most at play. The specific training can be developed and presented to address these concerns – always keeping in mind that we are dealing with people who will find change difficult and who may be resistant to that change, even threatened by it. Patience is required.
Q: When it comes to creating an equitable work culture, men may resist organizational changes favoring women because they view gender equality as zero sum—if women win, men lose. How then do you enlist men as agents of change?
First, identify which men in an organization are not threatened by a more equitable workplace – there will be some. These are your key champions. They will have done their own personal journeys to get to this point. Enlist them as communicators – they speak the ‘language’ of men and can aid in getting the equality message across. It may be useful to see if men can identify why ‘zero sum’ is the way they think – there will be some sort of fear around loss here. It can be helpful to show men what they can gain by making space for women.
Q: What can companies do to address these issues and ensure that bias training truly leads to long-term changes in the organization?
Here are my quick recommendations:
- Accept that real change is a long-term activity
- Look for bias – undertake a bias audit
- Implement recommended changes to documentation
- Seek/develop bespoke training and awareness building for staff and management
- Develop equitable pathways for promotion
- Address structural discrimination
- Be patient– this takes time