Promoting diversity and inclusivity in the workplace always seems like a reasonable goal on the surface.
Yet it can be surprisingly difficult to take practical steps to tackling bias – especially if it’s hidden or unconscious. But from recruitment to everyday management to crisis mediation, there are opportunities to dig deep and uncover prejudice, and simple ways to make sure you’re fostering a fair and comfortable workplace for all employees.
Federal law forbids discrimination on the basis of gender, age, ethnicity, race and more. Yet the human tendency to categorize people into groups and treat them according to preconceived beliefs is strong.
In fact, we really only notice when we deliberately challenge these assumptions.
Bias is most evident in the recruitment process, and progressive businesses can boost fairness by committing to a “blind” hiring process
For example, certain tools and software allow you to anonymize CVs, while you can implement a standardized interview protocol or use psychometric assessments or skills tests to focus on raw capabilities rather than demographics – you may be surprised to discover your own biased assumptions in full swing!
Rethink performance evaluations
Sex-based bias is just one of the many ways perceptions can be skewed when it comes to performance assessment on the job. When businesses become aware of the potential for this kind of bias, however, they can take steps to make the assessment process more transparent and objective.
Be on the lookout for recency bias (i.e. basing judgment on the most recent success or failure), and the halo/horn affect (i.e. allowing a single action to color an employee’s entire performance, for better or worse).
Use analytics for data-driven reviews, and make sure you’re writing down targets and goals against which to quantitatively compare performance.
Finally, it’s a good idea to ensure there are adequate channels for employees to speak up if they do feel unfairly appraised.
Make goals obvious
Nobody wants to create an unfair workplace, but many HR departments assume that good intentions alone are enough. Bias thrives when it’s unconscious and unexamined, so it follows that awareness is the first step to tackling it in the workplace.
According to research from Talent Insight Group, of the 25 global organizations investigated, “92% said D&I was a focus for their business, but only 16% highly rated their initiatives.”
Cultivating more inclusivity and diversity means consistently reinforcing an atmosphere where inclusion is not merely a box-ticking exercise, but a genuine opportunity to better ourselves and challenge our blind spots.
Companies can do this by implementing an overall work culture of respect, open-mindedness and tolerance. With June being LGBT Pride month, for example, management can encourage dialogue and set down some clear objectives, principles and guidelines.
Companies thrive when there is a shared sense of purpose and mission – rather than assuming that everyone is on the same page, it can be useful to deliberately align personal and company goals. Employees will also feel supported when they know that their workplace is transparent and committed to equality.
Avoid using ‘hunches’
Unfortunately, bias and prejudice can creep in when we allow ourselves to go with hunches rather than appraising the facts as plainly as possible.
Forward-thinking companies are tackling this problem by introducing standardized structure – not just for the recruitment process but throughout.
Starting with objective and measurable goals, using fair and automated testing procedures, and comparing performance with AI software all lowers the chance that you’ll make a knee-jerk assumption about the person in front of you.
With a fixed interview structure, for example, you give each candidate an equal chance to demonstrate their strengths, rather than letting personal expectations or stereotypes get in the way.
Finally, it’s up to management to take the lead when it comes to diversity and inclusivity. This can be done by inviting diverse speakers to company events, publicly acknowledging and rewarding diverse achievement, or simply encouraging staff to mix a little at work, and engage more with employees they might have avoided otherwise.
Striving for diversity is not just good optics; it makes business sense to ensure you’re not accidentally overlooking talent or alienating employees.
Creating a diverse and fair workforce is undoubtedly the right thing to do – but vibrant, efficient and inclusive workplaces also happen to be productive and resilient ones, too.