How To Address Bias In The Workplace

Thursday, May 25th, 2017 | by Tayo Rockson

Following my last article on workforce diversity, I want to hone in on a specific issue that affects many hiring decisions today, and that is unconscious bias. Unconscious bias refers to judgments and behaviors toward others that we’re not aware of. If not addressed appropriately, any chance of moving the needle on racial and gender equality in the workplace is shot!

That’s right – it’s shot. We can do a great deal of work to access a broader talent pool but if recruiters and hiring managers aren’t aware of their biases then they have not succeeded in developing an effective diversity and inclusion strategy. According to Paradigm, a company that helps organizations become more inclusive, “there are actually four dimensions along which bias can exist in an organizational setting: Attracting, Hiring, Developing, and Retaining.”

It’s clear that that if we don’t address our biases, we don’t have a proper foundation to build inclusive organizations and expand opportunities for underrepresented populations in the labor market.

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Here are a few ways to manage bias in your organization across these four domains.

Acknowledge Your Bias: We all have biases. Studies show that at any given moment, our brains are receiving 11 million pieces of information. We can only consciously process about 40 of those pieces. In order for us to process the remaining millions of pieces of information, we take mental shortcuts by virtue of our subconscious. These mental shortcuts leave us subject to several isms (sexism, racism) and stereotypes.

Basically, if you have a brain, you have a bias. It’s human nature. The best way that I have found to recognize your unconscious biases is by taking the Implicit Association Test (IAT). IAT measures attitudes and beliefs that people may be unwilling or unable to. After that, companies should invest in other forms of unconscious bias training. You cannot solve a problem if you don’t acknowledge it or address the root cause.

Anyone involved with hiring, firing, managing and promoting should go through a series of unconscious bias trainings and there are a whole host of which to choose from.

I recently caught up with workplace culture expert, Vanessa Shaw, founder of Human Side of Tech and producer of Culture Summit. She notes that:

Unconscious bias training is different than diversity training as it starts with understanding ourselves first.  When we become more aware, (or shall I say more ‘conscious’) of how we understand others in relation to ourselves – we beginning laying down the first bricks of building a bridge towards other people.

Don’t just stop with the training though.

Attract Talent:

Words matter a lot when it comes to writing job descriptions. If you want to increase the diversity of your applicant pool, look at how your job descriptions are written.  Research found that using phrases like “driven by” and “results-oriented” have shown to attract more male applicants.  Swapping out “driven by” and using “motivated by” has shown to attract more balanced male/female applicants.  Tools like https://textio.com/ make it easy to to scan job descriptions for language that deters female applicants highlights words to show you whether word usage promotes a more equally appealing tone for all genders.

Vanessa Shaw says, “Remove certain vocabulary from use, such as “culture fit” and opt for more inviting term “culture add”. And always, always avoid industry lingo, excessive acronyms, cuss words, and especially trendy terms like ninja, hacker or rockstar.”

Use Blind Recruitment In Your Hiring Practices: Consider trying blind recruitment,the practice of removing personally identifiable information from the resumes of applicants including their name, gender, age, education, and even sometimes the number of years of experience One useful tool to check out is Blendoor.

Develop Talent With Structured Evaluations: Once you have acknowledged some your biases, it’s time to create an environment that doesn’t allow you to gravitate towards short cuts when interviewing and assessing candidates.

Interviews have proven over time to be largely inefficient because they tend to be subject to things like confirmation bias and intuition. In fact, a study by Schmidt and Hunter in 1998 found that job interviews can only predict about 14 percent of the variability in employee performance. Despite this being the case, interviews are still considered to be an essential tool for candidate assessment.

A structured criteria for decision making leads to more accurate evaluations (Martell Guzzo, 1991). Make sure to conduct structured interviews based on hiring criteria that is relevant to the job. Structured processes for recording observations increase accuracy and reduce bias (Bauer Baltes, 2002). Structure provides consistency which  enables a fair comparison of fit for a job. .

Retain Talent By Creating An Accountability System: In order to make sure that managing bias remains an ongoing effort, there has to be an accountability system. Without accountability, outcomes may be compromised because implementation may be lacking. You can create accountability in the following ways.

The first is by declaring public diversity goals: Let everyone in your company know the diversity goals you’re trying to achieve then develop metrics you can use to track your progress. Make it a company-wide project by tying the metrics to the bonuses of senior leadership and everyone involved in attracting, hiring, developing, and retaining employees.

We all have biases, whether we are aware of them or not. The question we should ask ourselves as we source, screen and evaluate candidates is “what are our biases?  Recognizing these biases is the first step to developing practices to compensate for these  biases and creating a workplace that supports new perspectives and ways of thinking.


Tayo Rockson is the CEO of UYD Management which is a strategic leadership and consulting firm that helps corporations improve their bottom line by incorporating diversity, inclusion and social justice strategies. He has spent over 20 years living and working in 4 continents and so is considered an authority in communicating effectively across cultures.

The GradsofLifeVoice Forbes team provides thought leadership, research and expert commentary on innovative talent pipelines and related issues such as the skills gap, income inequality, workforce diversity, and the business case for employment pathways. We seek to change employers’ perceptions of young adults with atypical resumes from social liabilities to economic assets. This post was originally featured here.