More than 85% of men in the US are shorter than 6ft tall, yet almost 60% of corporate CEOs are over 6ft tall. (Blink by Malcolm Gladwell).
Unconscious bias is an awkward subject. Acknowledging it says we limit the way we relate to others, our view of the world and how we lead our organizations, our communities, and our families. Let’s be honest, we don’t want to admit our bias. In this watershed year, however, everything has changed. The veil has been lifted and the status quo is not an option.
What are biases?
Biases mean prejudice in favor of one person or group over another. Biases can be based on skin color, gender, sexual orientation, weight, nationality, religion, introversion, extroversion, experience, education and much more. When we unconsciously organize our world in this way, we limit our ability to build new connections, work effectively with others or create environments that bring out the best in everyone. We create a culture where our bias is known yet ignored, causing the targets of our bias to limit themselves, their voices and their efforts – and be and deliver less than their best. The #MeToo Movement is bringing unconscious bias back into the spotlight and making diversity and inclusion the labor policy issue of 2018. B. Pullen
Why are we like this?
“Unconscious bias is not the same as conscious discrimination. They’re the filters through which we see the world,” explains Yassmin Abdel-Magied in a TED talk about diversity. Filters speed up our decision making - when time is short and the stack of pressures is high, we purge choices based on conscious or unconscious biases. Think how you scan resumes for grade point average, prestigious schools or shared interests. “We don’t have unconscious biases because we’re bad people – we have them because we are people.” J. Emerson
Why does it matter
Unconscious biases influence how we behave and the culture that surrounds us. In the workplace, it can undermine diversity, recruiting, retention, engagement, collaboration, innovation and overall profits. It can also lead to bad behavior when our bias creates a justification for acting a certain way (see a forthcoming blog on the psyche of sexual harassers).
Here’s what your unconscious bias is doing to your organization:
It’s costing you a ton of money
According to a 2017 report from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission[BM1] [MH2] , employers paid $46.3 million to workers alleging sexual harassment alone. That doesn’t include other retaliation or harassment claims, indirect costs such as lower productivity and higher turnover, which could be staggering over time.
It’s limiting your business
By limiting ideas and input you are only hearing a fraction of the creativity and innovation that could be happening inside your organization.
It’s creating your biggest competitor
Cliques, ‘locker-room’ banter, harassment, glass ceilings, discriminatory jokes, etc. all survive because of the existence of biases. These are things that drive talented people with choices away. A host of badass[MH3] [MH4] female founders have been quietly leaving big corporations, raising money, attracting customers, and creating their own businesses. In 2017, a growing number of women-led companies raised millions of investment dollars. Startups like Accompany, Glossier, Joany, Shippo, and Lumi, among others, are killing it. CEO and Founder of StitchFix, Katrina Lake, was the first woman to take a tech company public last year (~ $1 billion). Don’t you want that kind of talent working with you?
How do I fix it?
1. Face Yourself
The starting point for any leadership transformation is having the courage to face oneself. Raise your awareness about your own biases with the Implicit Bias Test at Project Implicit.
2. Face your Board
It starts at the top. Bias from venture capitalists directly relates to bias in founders. They sit on the board and influence the decisions you make based on their own unconscious biases. Challenge them.
3. Face your Processes
A thoughtful leader once told her new team members, “I am going to put you on my team because you disagree with me. If you and I think alike, one of us is not necessary, and it won’t be me! But when we go public, we go with one voice.” D.Ulrich
So, challenge your recruitment and promotion processes to surround yourself with people who are different from you. Talent Sonar and Textio offer employers software that methodically screens job listings for potentially biased phrases and gender stereotypes. 60% of Textio’s users are from the tech industry, and most are focused on attracting women. They recently published a list of 10 tech companies that have gender-neutral job listings— including Netflix, Airbnb, Medium, and Pandora.
Getting diverse candidates to apply for jobs is just a start. Don’t ask for information that will generate a picture of the candidate before meeting: be aware of your bias when shortlisting for interviews, don’t read into information relating to addresses, places of education or any personal information. Don’t make assumptions about career aspirations, family planning or travel limitations.
4. Face your Team
California has mandated sexual harassment training laws, which are the most progressive in the nation, but they can often undermine what they’re intended to do. These are virtual trainings for two hours: You click a couple buttons and answer a survey. That’s not enough to combat the features of our workplace cultures that contribute to sexual harassment.
Seek out workshops that get at the unwritten cultural rules and how everyday stuff can enable behaviors that we don’t want to encourage Know what values and behaviors you do want to keep and nurture in your organizations. This will be what unites you and allows you to embrace differences.
Yes, unconscious bias is an awkward subject, yet understanding that we all have them is an invitation to a new level of conversation about ourselves, our practices and the benefits of diversity. The next logical step is to create frameworks that support organizations in embracing their differences and being better.