As most entrepreneurs and CEOs know, smart leaders must balance many goals for their companies and work hard to achieve them. Two must-haves that have been getting a lot of attention lately are a) positive, comfortable work culture and b) equal opportunity for all associates. Unfortunately, it’s also natural to assume we have achieved these goals because we don’t engage in discrimination.
Profitability can be measured easily. The state of comfort and opportunity within your company is murkier territory, but nonetheless important to suss out and improve.
There’s a reason we’re comfortable denouncing serial predators and clear-cut harassment in the workplace, but less comfortable confronting the invisible barriers we ourselves may perpetuate. Unconscious bias is not the result of hatred or purposeful discrimination, but it can hurt diversity and lead to toxic workplace culture if gone unaddressed.
Here’s how to identify and mitigate unconscious bias in your company.
Recognize that everyone is biased
The first step to doing something about unconscious bias is understanding what it is. As Fast Company explains, “We have loads of biases hardwired into our brains: preferences for people who are similar to us or who are in our group; wariness of those who are different; a tendency to save mental energy by using shortcuts like stereotypes to fill in the blanks about others.”
These biases, which we all have in some way shape or form, can color our perceptions and lead to preferential treatment of some to the passive detriment — or worse, active discrimination — of others.
Invest in training
According to Forbes, “A study of 829 companies over 31 years showed that diversity training had “no positive effects in the average workplace.”’ This is likely because people know, logically, that inclusion is good and discrimination is bad; they just don’t realize how human it is to be complicit in its failings. We all think it’s someone else’s problem — an overt sexist or racist who just got fired, for example.
By contrast, Unconscious Bias Training involves teaching people how their brains work and strategies to break these perfectly normal, but harmful, mental processes. It puts the onus on all of us to pay attention to biases and fix them.
Examine hiring and promotional practices
Unconscious bias can make workplaces uncomfortable for women and minorities, but it can also block them from getting their foot in the door or advancing. Hiring is one of the most common practices unconscious bias permeates, especially if hiring managers exclude candidates based on gender or ethnic-sounding names.
The same goes for promotion opportunities and reviews. If we are biased to believe working mothers are less devoted to their jobs, for instance, they may get passed up for well-earned opportunities. It is likely one reason that even if male to female ratio is about even, men still dominate upper management.
Removing names from resumes upon evaluation and providing more structured, merit-based reviews can help in this regard.
Listen up now, act soon
The problem with unconscious bias is that even if we do know about it, it’s still unconscious. We can’t erase or rewire our brains as easily as we’d like to.
So the best practice is to really listen to the experiences of those who may be marginalized in your office; whether it’s due to age, gender, race, disability or economic status. Do they feel respected, heard, and acknowledged for their work? What is it they need to get to that place?
From there, biases can come to light, processes can be improved, and slowly but surely yours will become a more inclusive workforce that benefits (financially and otherwise) from achieving this elusive but critical goal.