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How to Combat Implicit Bias: Turning Intentions into Action

Removing implicit bias in the workplace is often easier said than done. But there are a few things you can do to ensure that good intentions get turned into action. 

It’s common knowledge that diverse and inclusive workforces outperform their more homogeneous counterparts and that most employees want more diversity in their workplace. However, simply having a diverse team isn’t enough. You need to look inward to see how microaggressions and implicit biases affect employees at all levels of your organization and take action to change your culture.

Stopping individual discrimination cases is a good start, but the real work is creating systemic change. By becoming an active ally and dismantling any unfair systems now, you can ensure that no one is put in uncomfortable positions in the future.

What Does It Really Mean To Be An Ally?

By definition, an ally today is someone who takes action to support marginalized or underrepresented groups. (Note that while many associate discrimination and bias with race and ethnicity, people can discriminate against people based on their gender, sexuality, age, religion, socio-economic status, physical disability, neurodiversity, and more.) In the workplace, allies use their position, power, or privilege to help uplift and include colleagues belonging to underrepresented or marginalized groups.

Unfortunately, even those with the best intentions can find themselves lost when it comes to making valuable changes in the workplace. For example, over 80% of White employees view themselves as allies to their colleagues of other races and ethnicities, but just 16% of Latina women and 11% of Black women believe they have strong allies at work.

So, what does it really mean to be an ally at work, and how can we bridge the gap between what people actually need and what their allies think they need?

Tackle Implicit Bias

In addition to examining your privilege and listening to what members of marginalized or underrepresented communities are saying, you should examine where implicit bias may be present at work and take active steps to eradicate it. Implicit bias is our subconscious preferences, attitudes, and beliefs based on past experiences, stereotypes, and misinformation. In the workplace, implicit bias can lead to unfair advantages, disadvantages, and treatment. It can also lower team morale and create higher turnover rates. However, spotting and combating implicit bias can be challenging since it happens subconsciously.

While implicit biases can occur at any time, they frequently happen during the hiring and promotion processes. One of the easiest ways to spot implicit bias in the workplace is to look at who works in your organization and who’s in a leadership position. After all, every employee managed to make it through your hiring managers’ subconscious attitudes, and anyone in senior leadership managed to earn a promotion. So, if you see a lack of diversity at any level in your organization, it’s likely that implicit bias is at work.

How To Combat Implicit Bias At Work

As a leader, it’s your responsibility to create an environment where everyone is aware of unconscious bias, people feel comfortable, and every employee has the opportunity to thrive. To reduce implicit bias at work, you can:

  • Examine the recruiting, interviewing, and hiring processes: Implicit bias and discrimination can occur as early as the recruiting stage. Try to decrease or eliminate biased supervisor requests. You should also check any candidate sourcing algorithms for bias, use diverse job boards and recruitment panels, and establish a consistent process for evaluating candidates.
  • Implement racial bias training solutions: Make sure to use an experienced facilitator, set some ground rules, and provide practical steps to overcome unconscious biases.
  • Keep the conversation flowing: Having bias training in place isn’t enough — you also need to keep the conversation going. Consider initiating follow-up discussions, creating employee resource groups, offering harassment and discrimination training, and establishing safe channels for employees to speak up.
  • Facilitate interactions between people from different groups: When diverse groups work together, they can get to know each other. When each group brings its respective values and perspectives to the table, the end result is advantageous for all parties involved. 
  • Include a wide range of voices in business decisions: One of the best things you can do is lead by example. If you notice the leaders in your workforce all have similar backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, it’s time to start including and amplifying other people’s voices.
  • Write unbiased reference letters: Character reference objectives include letting future employers know about someone’s skills, work ethic, achievements, and character. They don’t include letting others know your premature assumptions. For example, don’t write that you were surprised by a non-American employee’s strong work ethic. When it comes to adjectives for recommendations, opt for words that focus on accomplishment rather than effort.
  • Have a reward and recognition system in place and be transparent about it: Install a clearly defined system in place for raises and promotions to ensure that everyone who is excelling is fairly recognized and rewarded.
  • Solicit honest feedback: Getting honest feedback from surveys or interviews is a good first step, but you also need to believe and act upon it. Make sure to take what your employees are saying to heart, and don’t ignore anything you don’t want to hear.
  • Bring awareness to discrimination: Hold yourself — and everyone else — accountable. If your company has discriminatory policies or someone says something discriminatory, don’t let it slide. Instead, take the opportunity to make policy changes and bring awareness to discrimination.

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