Battling Implicit Bias: Building an Inclusive Workplace

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Recent movement toward diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is encouraging for historically overlooked talent pools and employers who recognize the value diversity brings to the workplace.

Life and work experience are affected by a broad range of factors — including race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, and socioeconomic status — and business and industry are realizing the benefits of conquering explicit bias and embracing equity of opportunity.

Diversity and inclusivity bring a variety of frequently overlooked perspectives and experiences to the workplace, and there has been a significant increase in awareness in recent years. But turning rising awareness into real and lasting progress means clearing the hurdle of implicit bias.

Awareness and acknowledgment

Implicit bias is the result of social and cultural conditioning. Everyone is subject to these biases, but they’re unconscious — and usually expressed in ambiguous, and unintentional, ways. Conquering implicit bias requires awareness, acknowledgment, and action.

Awareness is the primary tool for addressing bias and preventing discrimination. We’re all familiar with bias in some form, but it’s a good idea for employers and employees to be aware of less common forms of implicit bias and the subtle ways it can appear. Some of these are familiar, and some are less understood. Implicit bias can include:

    • Racial bias affects Black, Indigenous, Asian Americans, and other people of color. Among large companies, fewer than 4% of senior leadership roles are filled by Black Americans.
    • Gender bias causes inequity in pay and promotion as men, especially white heterosexual men, are more likely to be hired, promoted, and receive regular raises.
    • LGBTQ+ bias affects employees who fall under any category of LGBTQ+, including those who are gender non-conforming or transgender.
    • Affinity bias occurs when leaders show preference for those like them in background, characteristics, location, education, etc., and it causes them to favor certain employees for reasons unrelated to job performance.
    • Name bias most commonly happens during the application or hiring process, when people with unusual, uncommon, or “foreign” names are less likely to receive callbacks or interviews.
    • National origin or ethnicity bias can also occur early in the hiring process and is based on unfounded ideas about a candidate’s work ethic or trustworthiness.
    • Appearance bias is based on factors irrelevant to job capability, such as height, weight, or physical appearance.
    • Age bias involves assumptions about an employee’s ability to manage technology, their work ethic, or maturity level based on their age rather than performance or work history.
    • Disability bias affects those with all types of disabilities. It happens when people make assumptions about an employee’s capabilities based on a physical, intellectual, neurological, or other disability.

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Addressing implicit bias in the workplace

Successful leaders accept and acknowledge the existence of implicit bias and challenge themselves and their employees to build equity in the workplace. Almost everyone experiences implicit bias. Awareness and thoughtful, intentional leadership can limit discrimination from inherent bias. What steps should your company take to create a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable work environment?

    • Increase awareness. Identify your own implicit biases with an assessment, such as Harvard’s Implicit Association Test. Results will be useful for formulating necessary changes in performance reviews, work assignments, and promotion eligibility. Find instances of implicit bias in your workplace by gathering information via anonymous surveys. Ensure a safe and supportive outlet for employees to report concerns. Document trends in employee retention and attrition to determine if bias is responsible for either.
    • Question the equity of workloads and job roles. If the same employees are always chosen for leadership, examine the selection criteria. Make choices based on employees’ strengths, experience, and interests rather than defaulting to the same people for every project. Develop clear written policies for performance evaluations, wage increases, and promotions. Policies must be consistent and equitable, and employees should be aware of the standards they’re required to meet to achieve their goals. Performance reviews are for feedback on objective criteria. If your company’s criteria are more subjective due to the nature of a job, engage other leaders in the review process to guarantee diverse input.
    • Train employees to recognize and report bias and discrimination. Explicit bias or discrimination is easily identified, but implicit bias frequently goes unidentified or ignored — until and unless employees are encouraged to challenge it. Make reporting bias safe and simple, and maintain an open-door policy for employees to discuss bias or discrimination.
    • Consult colleagues and employees. Ask for honest feedback on new policies, procedures, and employee training initiatives. Determine if you have unconsciously used stereotypes or other harmful assumptions. If a colleague or employee takes issue with your company’s messaging, acknowledge their concerns, and adjust accordingly.
    • Incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into your business plan. Involve every employee in regular training and team-building activities. Encourage feedback about your efforts. Build a company culture to reflect your commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion with sensitive, comprehensive, and continuous DEI improvement initiatives.

Contact TERRA Staffing Group for help with human resources, employee recruiting and retention, and strategies for improving your company’s DEI policies and ensuring a workplace free of bias and discrimination.