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Recognize Bias in the Workplace

Bias at Work

Inclusion in the workplace is a significant goal for many organizations, but can also be a difficult one to achieve. At times, unconscious biases impact our ability to be truly inclusive. Unconscious bias, or implicit bias, refers to a bias that we are unaware of, and which happens outside of our control. It is a bias that happens automatically and is triggered by our brain making quick judgments and assessments of people and situations, influenced by our background, cultural environment, and personal experiences.

Unconscious bias acts as a barrier to Equality. It prevents us from cultivating diverse talent, developing an engaged workforce, leveraging unique experiences and perspectives, and sparking innovation through collaboration. 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. The Corporate Leavers Survey, a national study conducted by the Level Playing Field Institute, shows that each year more than 2 million professionals and managers voluntarily leave their jobs solely due to unfairness, costing US employers $64 billion in turnover annually.

Take a look at the following statements that are unconscious beliefs some of us hold. These are an excerpt from the list shown in an article in The Huffington Post, by Trudy Bourgeois.

  • Men are better leaders.
  • Black women are “angry.”
  • Women are all on the “mommy track.”
  • Latino men are lazy.
  • Asians are good at technical things.

While many of us would never say or truly believe any of the above, our unconscious minds may be causing us to make decisions based on these archetypes created by the media and cultural misunderstandings. Let’s take a closer look at where bias shows up in the workplace, and how.

In-Group/Out-Group

As humans we tend to be drawn to what is familiar to us. In-group bias is the process of favoring someone who is similar to you and excluding those who aren’t in your natural or immediate group. This can have significant impact in the workplace. However, we can challenge this by reaching out and connecting to those who don’t seem immediately like us. And often, you’ll find that there are in fact many similarities. 

The Impact of Unconscious Bias on Employee Performance

We go to work every day and make decisions, most likely without any thought toward excluding others. Yet based on the brain research—remember those 11 million bits of information coming at us with the ability to process only 40 of them?—we cannot make the best decisions if we are not conscious of the biases we hold and where they show up in the workplace. So where does unconscious bias show up at work?

Here are common “traps,” ways that unconscious bias can quietly and unknowingly create unintended exclusion in your daily work.

Interviewing/Hiring

If you look for talent in the same places, the same schools, using the same referrals, you’ll get the same kinds of candidates. Additionally, if the hiring team doesn’t have a diverse representation of candidates, it will be difficult to look for and see diversity in your slate. Objective hiring criteria is also important to help eliminate bias and promote Equality in the hiring process.

Coaching/Development

Assumptions and stereotypes can impact who gets those more interesting and perhaps complex assignments (heavy travel or assignments abroad). Feedback will be delivered in different ways, either more directly or indirectly, particularly between different genders.

Talent Reviews

Ask yourself the following questions regarding measuring and evaluating performance. Are the tools used to review employees free of bias? What criteria are being used to calibrate performance evaluation? Is it skewed to different types of personalities? Are you being intentional with promoting a diverse set of employees?

Day-to-Day Interactions

Communication between peers, managers, and employees takes all different forms. Some individuals can get to the task right away, others need more time to relate in order to trust others to act on and meet deliverables. Recognition and reward take different forms, and it’s important to understand what motivates individuals to come to work, perform, and stay engaged. The key is to treat people equally. To do so means you have to be aware of your biases. Remember, our brain is leading us—unconsciously!

Reflection

Where might you have perpetuated bias in the workplace? When and how has bias impacted you?

The Positive Impact of Diversity and Inclusion

So how can we control our biases and positively impact diversity and inclusion at our companies, creating Equality in the workplace? The best tool in our toolkit is ourselves. We have the ability to step back from a situation and take time to think. The more aware we are of the biases we have, and how important it is to look outside of the in-group, the more we can consciously challenge every decision we make and become confident that we are not ruled by bias, but instead are ruling our biases. Amy Lazarus, CEO of Inclusion Ventures, suggests that even the act of writing “I have bias” on a sticky note and placing it on your computer screen can help you reduce bias simply by being more aware. 

By introducing greater diversity in the people we hire, develop, and promote, and by proactively becoming more inclusive in our behavior, we can improve the unintended negative effects of unconscious bias and reap the benefits. As the research has shown, diversity in the workplace, in all its forms:

  • Leads to better results—financial, customer satisfaction and even philanthropy
  • Fuels diversity of ideas and innovation
  • Is representative of global customer profiles and buying decisions

In the next module, you learn how to create a culture of inclusion for all using our Equality Ally practices. 

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