Why I’m Biased [& What can we do to remove bias in the workplace]

I am a white, 30 year old heterosexual male, and I am biased.

Unconsciously biased, but biased nonetheless.

I have never had to endure racist or ethnic slurs. I have never had to think about my sexuality and come out, I just ‘was’. I have another few decades before my age comes in to question during interviews. For all these reasons I am biased.

So what, or why does that matter? Research tells us that in order to genuinely take steps to remove bias from the workplace, there are a few elements that have to be present, here are a few to consider in your workplace.

Note: Bias is multifaceted, the world is far more complex than the obvious gender/race/ethnicity/age discussion. It goes deeper than that, it involves sexual orientation, mental capacity, physical capability, membership of a particular group, physical markers, economic status and many more. In truth it can even be a combination of multiple elements.

1. Self- Awareness

The former footballer John Barnes recently gave a reaction on a BBC talk show where he very spoke candidly around the subject of racism, about how we are all biased. To think you are not biased is possibly the biggest blind spot of all. We must first become aware that we are biased before we can hope to do anything about it. We are all shaped by our environment and our context. Not sure if you have a bias, check out Michael Kimmels’ take on bias perspective and how we don’t see our bias <here in his acclaimed Ted Talk>

In the workplace, just like in life, the theory is that everyone should be equal. However, I am a male and in the workplace, so that definitely makes me privileged.

According to the Central Statistics Office I will likely earn 14% more than my female counterparts in Ireland. If I do my job well, I ’earn’ a few promotions, I am far more likely to occupy a senior executive role - 72% of these positions are taken up by men. If I really network well over the coming decade or so, and don’t mess up too badly, my chances of becoming a chief executive are 9 times better than if I was a woman.

Potential action idea for organisations: At the heart of unearthing our biases is creating the opportunities for each of us to safely explore them. It can be an uncomfortable place to be, but evolving our empathy with programmatic strategies for managing our bias can help here. Setting up programs to address bias is a great first step!

2. Opportunity

Now, let’s say I get fired, and decide to start my own business. I’m going to need funding and investors. There is a much stronger chance I will receive funding for my brilliantly fantastic new idea because I am a man, than if I was a woman with the exact same brilliantly fantastic idea. At this point, if you’re thinking anything along the lines of, “well, maybe he is more able for the job than she is”, this is your implicit bias. This has nothing to do with ability, it simply has to do with opportunity.

Harvard Business Review published a study that showed female entrepreneurs are consistently asked different questions to their male counterparts when quizzed by potential investors. Men, in general were asked about the upside - “Tell us about how good this can be? What is the potential for growth?” whereas, women, are asked about potential downside - “What if this fails? How much could we lose?” The outcome? No surprise, considerably more investment for male lead entrepreneurs and their companies.  Dr Dana Kanza found in her 2017 research that despite female founders accounting for 38% of all US companies, they only get a mere 2% of the venture funding!

Potential action idea for organisations: The next step is putting the bias program learnings we spoke about above it into action. This takes effort and courage. How can you ensure diversity of opportunity in your organisation - what if only only open opportunities when X% of applicants fit a ‘diverse criteria’? How might that change up things? Challenging on ‘requirements’ for opportunities is another great place to start - is X years experience or Y previous skills absolutely necessary for the role? (often these criteria serve to give the opportunity to more of the ‘same’). Could we challenge ourselves as organisations to back giving ‘the less typical’ candidates/employees opportunities? Finally, could we put mentoring/supports into our organisations to ensure that diverse candidates are encouraged to put themselves forward for opportunities?

3. Blind Hiring

Up until just a few decades ago, in the top orchestras around the world, females occupied less than 5% of the total group. Since blind auditions behind a screen were introduced, it has increased the likelihood of a female progressing by 50%. (Unless that is, a female wore high heels, the sound of the shoes behind a screen allegedly kick starts that implicit bias against women again!)

By removing names, genders and even dates of birth, it removes any potential implicit bias. Studies have shown this can increase bring of females by almost 20%, and an almost 40% increase in ethnically diverse applications.

Potential action idea for organisations: Review & questioning your hiring process - ask the hard questions ‘if there are unconscious biases could be present for race, gender, age, university/school etc?’. If there is even a remote chance they are present, remove them and move forward. The best way to begin removing bias is to broaden and diversify your hiring panels. It is absolutely worth setting targets around candidates profiles and diversity at the selection stage - it is impossible to assess diverse candidates and make considerations if you don’t even have them in your pipeline.

Moving forward :

In closing, we all want to be good people. We all want to be fair, equal and empathetic towards others. But what if, as the social psychologist Dolly Chugh puts its, “our attachment to being good people is getting in the way of us becoming better people?”

We don’t need to be perfect, we just need to get better.

Cathal Sheridan

Head of Program Design @ PepTalk

Let's make work better …

At PepTalk, engagement is at the heart of all our wellbeing platform. Our platform is about energy, passion and fun while being grounded in key business outcomes. To find out more about this area and our wider PepTalk offering book a demonstration at www.peptalk.ie or email james@peptalk.ie

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