The tricky thing about bias in the workplace is that for the most part, people aren’t even aware it’s happening. Can we actually do anything about it?
Unconscious bias in the workplace is recognised as one of the most widespread barriers to equal employment opportunities. It directly impacts diversity outcomes because it influences our ability to make rational and fair decisions about others.
The benefits of a diverse workforce are well publicised. In fact, a new study by the McKinsey Global Institute found that advancing women’s equity could add $12 trillion to global GDP by 2025.
The business case is clear
Creating an environment where unconscious bias can be avoided in talent decisions is challenging for HR teams and senior managers. Bias can occur within recruitment and selection, internal promotions, performance reviews and talent programs.
Organisation’s have long tried to remove these barriers to create equitable workplaces where diversity and opportunities for all are the norm. However, if you have worked in HR for any length of time it’s likely you have experienced unconscious bias in talent decisions.
Case in point
A study recently published in Nature Geoscience reported gender differences in recommendation letters for postdoctoral fellowships in geoscience. Women were about half as likely as men to receive a letter deemed as ‘excellent’, which directly impacted their future career prospects. Interestingly, it made no difference whether the recommender was male or female, as this bias was found in letters issued by both men and women.
So where do you start?
Step one: awareness. Review your process, practices, tools and frameworks, identifying each touch point where people make talent decisions.
Next, reshape your approach to these processes to remove bias in the workplace. Two simple and effective examples of ways groups who achieved this are:
- The symphony orchestra industry restructured their auditioning process so candidates played from behind a curtain. Their talent pool doubled and the gender balance of orchestras was transformed forever.
- Most engineering fields are male dominated, so one engineering business wanted to address the gender and age bias in their recruitment and promotion processes. They implemented ‘blind CVs’, where the name and age was removed from each candidate’s resume so decisions could be based solely on capabilities and experience.
Unconscious bias is just that – unconscious. You can’t train it out of people, so you need to train people to recognise bias and work around it. Communicating with and training your managers is key to embedding an awareness of unconscious bias and it’s impact on talent decisions.
Lastly, create a way to measure the results. Both tracking and communicating progress in achieving unbiased talent outcomes and their link to overall organisational success will help achieve a culture of diversity and inclusion.
How is your organisation’s diversity report card looking? Is it time for a review of your talent processes?