There have been many discussions about unconscious bias, however, we still have not found an effective way to actually remove or at least reduce bias in organisations and work cultures.
The truth is, unconscious bias is the way our brain works, maybe we should just accept it?
Step 1: Leverage first impression bias and the “similar to me” effect
We are all biased by preferring people who are similar to ourselves or who have shared interests and experiences. We also tend to rely too heavily on one trait (positive or negative) when making decisions.
When scanning through CVs I might prefer names that I can easily pronounce or people that are of the same gender and similar age. The problem is that first impression and what we then consider as similar has little to do with being successful at work. Imagine, If first I see the traits that are meaningful and good predictors of work success like our shared values, the style in which we prefer to work and our passions, there are much better chances that:
- we can actually connect based on better predictors of work success,
- I will be able to overcome other biases, discovered later, that might come from superficial differences like age, gender, ethnicity, certain abilities or disabilities, etc.
Step 2: Create “stereotyping” of talents and community of interests
Stereotyping is our tendency in guessing or making assumptions about behaviors that are often based on group identity. We as humans like to, want to and need to categorize the world into neat little groups. It is efficient, predictable, and makes us feel good.
Many diversity programmes actually emphasise people in groups identities that are non-relevant to the actual work. In doing that many organisations that are trying to increase awareness and reduce bias are actually encouraging the set-up of group identity. Once connecting with people in ways that are meaningful to achieve shared purpose and outcomes, the second step is to create, nurture and celebrate “stereotypes” of talents and community of interests. People can:
- be “stereotyped” into groups that are crossing other stereotypes of gender/age/ethnicity etc
- get away from structural grouping
- separate talents and interests from people hence a person can be “stereotyped” into multiple groups.
Step 3: Reward Confirmation Bias
Another common bias is our tendency to look for information that supports our existing beliefs, and reject data that challenges these. For that reason pressures to recruit to “quotas”, or obey certain policies sometimes increases our focus to justify our biased choices. Instead of using punishment to try and change human behaviors, we can, for example, reward people leaders for:
- Discovering similarities that are meaningful for achieving the shared purpose and outcomes.
- Reward them for discovering and growing certain “stereotyped” talents groups.
So instead of punishing for undesirable biases or trying to trick our unconscious bias with how we dress, shake hands, speak, or train our Artificial Intelligence, I suggest, we get over it. We start to adapt our unconscious bias by staging experiences that help us see beneath people’s surface on a deeper and more meaningful way.
@Hadas Wittenberg is a future of work enabler.
Bias – inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group, especially in a way considered to be unfair. (Wikipedia)
Unconscious bias – refers to a bias that we are unaware of and which happens outside of our control. It happens automatically and is triggered by our brain making quick judgments and assessments of people and situations, influenced by our background, cultural environment, and personal experiences. (Wikipedia)
There have been a lot of discussions about unconscious bias, however, we still did not find an effective way to actually remove or at least reduce bias in organisations and work cultures. Removing this bias becomes even harder if we believe, which I do, that most people want to do the right thing. Here are examples of attempts to resolve the issue and why they don’t seem to work:
Diversity and inclusion training
In the last 20 years, diversity and inclusion training programmes became the norm with most organisations. It is not clear if these programmes really work and some studies even found that sometimes these strategies actually increase unconscious bias. why-diversity-programs-fail
Use of Artificial Intelligence
We hope that the use of artificial intelligence and particularly machine learning can help remove unconscious bias from the hiring processes. After all, machines do not have feelings. The challenge is that machines learn through algorithms designed by humans with biases. For example the Events like a Google photo mechanism that mistakenly labeled an image of two friends as gorillas.
Treat the symptoms
An interesting research by the Talent Innovation Organisation measured the effect that perceived bias has on the employees and the costs for the organisation and suggests strategies to disrupt bias by changing the perception rather than removing it. The strategies are: diverse top leadership, inclusive management and connect diverse talent to sponsorship. While the research shows if applying these strategies the effects of bias can be reduced, these strategies are hard to implement if bias is there to start with.
The truth is Bias is the way our brain works, maybe we should just accept it?