Bias at the Workplace – 11 ways to avoid it

 

We are all humans, and possibly one of the most human elements in our behaviour is bias!

And bias comes in so many flavours: it can be based on your tribal origin, where you went to school, where you grew up, if you have tattoos, your weight, skin colour (tone of it and whether you bleach), your gender, your age, your height, your religion, and so many other things…the list is ‘endless’.

Bias is present in our social environment, in all sorts of functions and human interactions and, of course, in our workplaces. You might have seen it there affecting all sorts of decisions – like hiring, promotion, career advancement opportunities, evaluations/performance, management and even employee retention.

But there are ways we can not only control but also reduce bias.

Workplace Bias: 11 ways to reduce it

#1 – Understand what types of biases exist and which ones you have

HR is not exempt from bias. We are people, after all. You should start by educating yourself on the topic, what types of bias exist and how they impact individuals and organisations. Then spend some time on introspection to identify your own biases. Thinking back, what factors have influenced your interactions with others and your decision-making process? Ask for feedback from people you trust.” – Molly NuhringOtis Elevator

Awareness is the 1st Step!!!  If you are unfamiliar with unconscious bias, a good starting point is Harvard’s Project Implicit (https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit) and it is a free test.

#2 – Be Proactive: Develop an organisational anti-Bias Policy

You need one for 2 reasons: to educate employees and to manage their behaviour when they deviate from these anti-Bias policies.

Is your organisation too slow with this? Then take the initiative to develop an anti-Bias policy for your team!

Keep in mind that most of the time, bias is unconscious.

#3 – Plan for anti-Bias and monitor it

Having a policy or any other excellent document without an execution plan will be a guarantee for failure. That simple!

#4 – Create and welcome supportive dialogue

Don’t isolate employees or even colleagues who ‘feel biased against’. Discrimination can always be felt but can rarely be proven.

#5 – Establish clear criteria in advance of making decisions

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(hiring, promotion, etc.); monitor their effectiveness.

#6 – Hold ALL decision-makers accountable for Bias-tolerance (yourself too)

#7 – Survey employees confidentially to find out what is really going on in every aspect of the employment process

#8 – Create Opportunities for Intergroup Contact

 Simply working with colleagues from different groups is one of the most tried-and-successful ways of breaking down all sorts of stereotypes. For example: men are overrepresented in technical jobs; ‘break’ all those departments and specialties that are segmented by gender!

#9 – Train leadership and employees with open dialogue and awareness

Encourage the initiative to go beyond the anti-Bias Workshops to affinity groups, mentoring programmes, etc.

Mentoring is a great and effective way to eliminate most biases.

#10 – Reward Employees who actively support your anti-Bias policies!

#11 – SO WHAT? Ask yourself, what are your biases?

  • An employee having a tatoo? So what? How does that affect their performance?
  • An employee with a disability? So what?
  • An overweight colleague? So what?
  • Any kind of bias? So what? ….So what if they have that ‘thing’ that you don’t like…is that really a reason for discrimination or for not supporting them as colleagues??

SO WHAT? questions can help most of us reduce all of our biases – assuming that we are willing of course!

Harassment

Harassment is a form of discrimination. Harassment is any unwelcome behaviour by a co-worker, manager, client, vendor/supplier or anyone else in the workplace that is based on:

  • race, colour,
  • religion,
  • sex (including pregnancy),
  • Tribe or nationality,
  • age (g. 40 or older),
  • Disability of any form,
  • relationship to someone who may be discriminated against.

Distribution of Bias-Complaints

I couldn’t find data for Ghana, but as an indication in 2017 (the latest possible data) in the US, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the breakdown of the discrimination-complaints were:

  • Retaliation: 41,097 (48.8 percent of all charges filed)
  • Race: 28,528 (33.9 percent)
  • Disability: 26,838 (31.9 percent)
  • Sex: 25,605 (30.4 percent)
  • Age: 18,376 (21.8 percent)
  • National Origin: 8,299 (9.8 percent)
  • Religion: 3,436 (4.1 percent)
  • Colour: 3,240 (3.8 percent)
  • Equal Pay Act: 996 (1.2 percent)
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Other Bias-Considerations?

Stop ‘Practices’ such as:

  • The ‘Beer/Drink test’
    The ‘Beer/Drink Test’ is about evaluating candidates on the basis of whether you would like to get a beer with them rather than looking at their professional credentials and abilities. Great drink-mates are not automatically great work team-members. You don’t need to love your co-worker in order to respect and cooperate with them for a productive and over-performing team.

Another form of it is leaning toward a candidate who likes football as much as you do, or who likes the same clothes-designer etc…

We all have the tendency to gravitate toward people who are like ourselves, but that should play no part in any hiring or other HR decision.

  • The Halo effect:This is a common term in marketing and other fields of applied psychology. It is about the nice, polite, well-dressed, well-spoken and likeable When we like a candidate as a person, we tend to be more prone to overrating his or her skills and abilities.

The above are the 2 most ‘common’ biases in hiring.

In Conclusion

According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: If unconscious bias is rampant in a workplace, it can result in discriminatory treatment or practices, negative business culture and a lack of workforce diversity.

Relying on any bias (usually it is done unconsciously) saves us from having to do the tough mental work of all sorts of decision-making.

But since in all parts of the HR spectrum (from hiring to promoting to advancing to firing employees) we are considering individuals who could work for us and with us for many years, the bias-shortcut might be the one that you probably do not want to take.

Please take an active role in preventing or at least minimising biases in your workplace!

Thank you and good Luck,

Irene

About the Author:

Irene Gloria Addison is the owner of HIREghana, a Leader Ghanaian Recruitment Agency and also a boutique/ niche HRM Consultancy, based in Accra. Irene is also busy with her CMI Master’s Course in Leadership Coaching and Mentoring.

HIREghana can be reached at- Our website is http://www.hiregh.com 

Irene welcomes your feedback/ comments/ remarks/ suggestions via your email message to Press {at} HIREgh . com.

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