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How to Identify and Eliminate Biases in Your Workplace

To create an inclusive workplace culture, companies need to eliminate workplace biases, including those that exist in the hiring process and how current employees are treated. When bias exists, it can result in discrimination and inequality, and it can even negatively impact productivity and employee retention rates due to poor job satisfaction.

However, before you can eliminate biases, you must understand what bias is and how to identify it in the workplace.

What is Workplace Bias?

While a person can be biased intentionally, most biases happen unconsciously, especially in the workplace. An unconscious bias — also referred to as implicit bias — is an individual’s tendency to think about a person or treat a person a certain way based on stereotypes without fully realizing what they are doing.

Everyone has unconscious biases, whether they want to believe this or not because the human brain tends to categorize or organize people into groups to help them understand or make sense of the world. And people can develop their own individual biases, or they can develop shared biases based on how they were raised, cultural influences, the media, and other experiences.

The problem is that these unconscious biases can lead to unintentional judgments or discrimination. And in some cases, the unconscious bias can turn into a conscious bias and conscious judgments.

Unfortunately, completely eliminating unconscious bias is not really possible. However, if you are aware of it, you can better identify it when it does surface, which then allows you to make active, conscious decisions to keep it from impacting decision-making and behaviors in the workplace.

Two of the most common biases that can affect the workplace include racial bias and gender bias. However, there is also conformity bias, which can cause people to behave like others in an effort to fit in, which can be detrimental to innovation.

For example, if a team is working on a project, conformity bias could lead to them all simply doing what everyone else is doing just to make things easy, but it’s important to encourage people to be open with their new and different ideas to promote innovation.

There can also be age bias, weight bias, and ableism. For instance, a health and wellness company might avoid hiring people who are fat because they have the biased belief that it means they are unhealthy, and they don’t want them representing their company. But fat isn’t a bad thing, and being fat doesn’t equate to being unhealthy.

Ultimately, if a company is discovered to have biases, it can tarnish their reputation, result in poor employee satisfaction, cause tension in the workplace that affects productivity, and it can even lead to legal complications. 

How to Measure and Identify Bias in the Workplace

The first step to identifying bias in the workplace is to be aware of what it is and how it can affect you and your organization. Once you know what to look for, it’s easier to spot it happening. From there, you can also look at data to analyze or measure the presence of bias at your company.

For example, you can examine the demographics of your employees. Do you hire more men than women? Is your staff predominantly Caucasian? What about the age of your employees or their abilities — do you only hire people who are young and without disabilities?

Looking at this kind of data can help you quickly spot whether there might be some biases occurring, especially during the hiring process. You can also look at how much you pay your employees, the productivity levels of certain employees, and what employees have received promotions.

For example, if someone is not getting as much work done or if they aren’t being given as many opportunities to excel within the company, it could be because they aren’t a hard worker — but it could also be because they aren’t being treated favorably due to a bias.

You can also look at incident reports, employee surveys, and exit interviews to gather data on potential biases occurring in the workplace.

Tips for Eliminating Unconscious Bias at Work

Again, while it is not possible to eliminate biases entirely, you can actively work toward making sure they are not being acted on and affecting your company, employees, and workplace culture. So, let’s take a look at some tips to help reduce bias at work.

1. Evaluate your Recruitment and Hiring Process

Potential candidates could be exposed to biases before they are even hired at your company. For example, if your recruitment marketing only shows white people or mostly men, this is sending a message, and that message is biased. So make sure that when you are marketing your company and job openings, the visuals and messages you are sending are inclusive.

You should also train your hiring department how to avoid biases when they are conducting interviews and deciding who to bring on board. In fact, discrimination training can help everyone at your company, not just your HR department, learn how to be more aware of their biases and how to avoid them.

2. Asses which biases are most likely to affect your company

Some companies are more prone to biases based on the industry they are in. So if you are more aware of the biases that people at your company might be more prone to, then you can be more mindful of them and keep them from impacting your workplace and employees going forward.

Again, this could include a fitness company having a weight bias, a beauty company having an age bias, or a tech company having a gender or race bias. The goal should be to hire people with the right experience, despite what they look like, where they are from, how old they are, etc.

3. Encourage employees to speak up and openly communicate

To avoid conformity bias, it’s important to encourage staff to speak up when they have ideas and to feel comfortable openly communicating with their superiors. It’s not uncommon for lower-level employees, especially new ones, to feel like they aren’t allowed to have a voice or an opinion, but this can lead to conformity bias, which can affect innovation and even just general productivity.

It’s also crucial to encourage employees to speak up when they notice biased, discriminatory treatment occurring in the workplace. Staff should not be punished for speaking out about what’s right and ethical.

4. Make diversity a priority

One of the best ways to avoid biases is to actively promote diversity in the workplace. This can be done by enforcing a diversity policy, seeking diverse job candidates, making sure leadership positions and promotions include a diverse mix of people, and providing benefits and programs that cater to the diverse needs of your staff.

5. Regularly audit data and procedures

To ensure biases don’t start creeping back in, it’s important to regularly audit the company. This includes analyzing data, as mentioned before, to look at things like the gender or age of the people you’re hiring and the pay rates, as well as reviewing general procedures and policies to make sure the way things are being done and how people are communicating are not falling prey to biases.

Simply auditing for bias once and then not checking again for a long time is not going to cut it. You have to be regularly proactive about ensuring biases are not affecting any aspect of the company and how employees are being treated.

Wrapping Up

Unconscious bias might not be possible to get rid of entirely, but by following the advice above, you can reduce the chances of it becoming a problem and leading to openly discriminatory behavior. The key is awareness.

Denying that you or anyone at your company has unconscious biases won’t do any good. You must acknowledge that it exists everywhere and in everyone and then regularly make an effort to stop it from impacting decisions, behaviors, and procedures within the company.

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