There is a huge and valid push within organizations to create processes or structures that promote diversity, and welcome people from different walks of life. While the intention behind bringing in such representation is right, it doesn’t always result in the required outcomes. Why? Because biases play out at the individual level, no matter how the processes are designed. The buck stops with the hiring managers. And the more people in such roles address their own biases, the more inclusive workspaces we can have.
Here’s where to start:
- Accept that no one is inclusive by default. We are hard-wired to move away from people who we perceive to be different. To overcome this evolutionary programming, work on your affinity bias, which prompts us to have a more favorable opinion of someone like us. In hiring, this means selecting candidates who share our race, the same school, or even speak the same language. The Head of Global Talent Acquisition at Microsoft, Chuck Edward, says, “People seek out, and hire, candidates who look, act, and operate like them.”
- Ask yourself how your bias is playing out. Since bias by nature is unconscious, it is very much a part of our daily language, thought process, and behavior. If you hear phrases like, “This person is not a cultural fit,” or “I don’t feel like s/he would do well,” be wary. It could be a biased statement rather than one based on facts. Keep it in check, by asking yourself or your team members, “Where could unconscious bias show up in our decisions today?”
- Test your assumptions. In 2017, Kristen Pressner, Head of Human Resources at a multinational firm, gave a brave TEDx talk, where she admitted to harboring gender bias against women leaders, despite identifying as a woman herself. Pressner developed a technique to disrupt bias — ask yourself, if you were to swap out the candidate from an underrepresented background with one of your more typical hires, would you have the same reaction? For example, if a young woman candidate speaks passionately, and you’re less inclined to hire her because you think of her as immature, would you have the same reaction if a man spoke the same way? Called “Flip it to test it”, this is an easy way to call out bias as it happens.
Addressing your own biases is not just a personal gain. It improves the company’s ROI, increases stock market evaluations, and reduces risk. Worthy of some effort, then?