Rooting out bias, the Google way

A few years back Google released a diversity report that revealed marked gender and race preferences at their offices. Of 36 top-ranking executives, just 3 were women and the presence of people of color was negligible. Facebook, Apple, and Yahoo followed suit, to survey their workforce demographics. All reports had one thing in common: men dominated their workforce, and biases of race, religion, or physical appearances tiptoed into organizational decisions.

Diversity and inclusion drive organizational success, but most efforts to weave them into the workplace fail due to subtle biases that influence our thoughts and decisions. Google has been trying to remove such unconscious biases in a number of ways. Here are the four cornerstones of their practice, which we can all use too:

  • Create awareness

In 2013, Google began educating its people about unconscious bias, hoping to train its approximately 60,000 employees across the world. Their 90-min ‘bias-busting’ workshops challenge the quick and automatic decision-making which inherently disfavors minority groups. The company encourages its people to call out biases when they encounter them.

  • Build structure

The more structured the processes – whether hiring, reviews, or allocating tasks – the easier it is to make objective decisions. For example: when selecting a team member to lead a project, list out the needed skills, experience, and other essential criteria. Then assess which team member meets the prerequisites. Google has integrated unbiasing checklists into people processes; employees are encouraged to use them to make optimal decisions.

  • Gather data

Data helps spot patterns and measure performance. Google collects data about hiring, performance, promotion, and pay. This data is analyzed to find trends in parameters such as gender and ethnicity. In one cycle, the numbers showed that junior, female software engineers were not getting promoted at the same rate as their male counterparts. A valuable insight for a team trying to bridge gender divides!

  • Work on subtle messages

Recognizing and evaluating subtleties can help create a more inclusive environment. In 2013Google opened a new office. All the conference rooms were named after famous scientists, but soon Googlers noticed that most of the scientists were men. They renamed some of the rooms. A small step sent out a big message.

Uncovering and countering unconscious bias is a long process, but one that is critical. As Dr Brian Welle, Director of People Analytics, Google, says, “You have to create that openness in your culture in order for these concepts to take route.”

Will you help make it happen?

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