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Identifying and understanding bias in your organization

Identifying and understanding bias in your organization

Synopsis
3 Minute Read

Everyone has biases, but digging deeper to assess where they exist and how they impact your workplace can boost effectiveness and innovation.

Manager, Consulting Services - DE&I

Biases are everywhere. They can be activated in a fraction of a second without you realizing it, and they are persistent. Unconscious bias can affect a person’s ability to interpret information fairly and accurately, and can stem from assumptions and pre-conceived ideas related to a person’s appearance, where they went to school, where they live, or where they’re from – just to name a few.

Unpacking and understanding how unconscious bias affects thinking and decision-making is no small feat. The process involves delving into one’s own identity and acknowledging there’s always more to learn. Changing your perspective – actively undoing years of thinking, even unconscious thinking – can take a lot of work.

The realities of our workplaces can stand in the way of our doing this hard work – and the consequences can be unfortunate. During our unpredictable and turbulent economic times, efficiency is a top priority. Not only is it hard to recruit and hire people, but the policies and processes we follow typically are hard-wired. When looking to fill a role in your organization, busy day-to-day operations can prevent us from taking the time needed to see how biases may exist in your recruiting and hiring process – to the detriment of the work you and your organization are doing to enhance Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI).

For example, affinity bias can limit the scope of where job opportunities are posted. Confirmation bias can affect how information from a CV is interpreted. Halo or horn effects can skew the outcome of an interview. (Please see sidebar).

We know that there is richness in “wisdom of crowds,” but unconscious bias can impact the talented candidates who might apply for and accept a job and limit innovation and growth: without diversity of thought and lived experience, you miss out on new ideas and the ability to reach a wider, more inclusive audience, negatively affecting customer experience.

Types of biases

While there are many types of biases that can exist in a workplace, here are a few that can have the greatest impact on your organization:

  • Affinity bias: Affinity bias leads people to favour others who they feel they have a connection or similarity to. For example, if a hiring manager notes that a candidate has attended the same school as they did, they may be more inclined to assume that person has what it takes to excel in the role.
  • Confirmation bias: Confirmation bias is a cognitive bias that favours information that backs up existing beliefs or stereotypes. For example, if a hiring manager believes that people who live in a certain part of the city, town, country, or region may be better equipped to work at their organization, they’ll be more likely to seek out those people and place a greater emphasis on information that supports these beliefs, while overlooking other characteristics, traits, and experience.
  • Halo effect: The halo effect occurs when a positive impression is made of someone because of one or more qualities or traits. This can lead to a person being chosen based on limited information. For example, a hiring manager may unconsciously have gender or beauty bias and assume a candidate is right for the job because of their appearance or gender, while overlooking their qualifications.
  • Horns effect: The opposite of the halo effect, the horn effect occurs when a person has a negative impression of another based on one trait or experience. For example, if a hiring manager finds a candidate unattractive or thinks the role should be filled by another gender, they may dismiss that person as a viable option for the job.
  • Perception bias: Perception bias is a type of cognitive bias that occurs when people subconsciously form assumptions and draw conclusions based on beliefs, expectations, or emotions. For example, a hiring manager may assume that an older candidate may feel uncomfortable or won’t fit in with younger colleagues without first getting to know the person and asking them how they’d feel.
  • Gender bias: Gender bias may seem like an obvious bias to recognize but often, its impacts are felt well past the hiring process. According to a 2022 paper published by MIT professor Danielle Li, on average, women receive higher performance ratings than their male colleagues but are given 8.3 percent lower ratings for potential than men. Ultimately, women are on average 14 percent less likely to be promoted than men.

How to combat unconscious bias throughout your organization

The benefits of identifying and assessing those biases can make a world of difference.

The easiest and most effective way to tackle unconscious bias is to challenge and check-in on your first impressions. Taking pause and asking yourself why you feel a certain way about a candidate or employee, and where the information forming that opinion comes from, can ensure you’re not making decisions on the fly.

But more importantly, having a solid foundation of bias awareness and training within your organization will ensure everyone is on the same page and can take the steps needed to acknowledge and address their own biases.

Training

It may seem simple but effective and thoughtful training of all employees at all levels is needed to recognize and prevent biases when it comes to hiring and retaining talented employees.

Every employee should know your organization’s policies and practices when it comes to EDI and specifically, how to combat bias. It’s not a short-term fix but rather an opportunity to educate your workforce and help them better understand themselves and their colleagues, to then action change.

Recognizing privilege in certain spaces and the privileges of the people within those spaces can enable you to become more aware of existing biases and blind spots that influence decision-making.

Engagement

It’s a mistake to assume the nature of the needs and expectations of different populations within your organization without first asking for their input and making it clear that they’ve been heard and respected.

The kind of engagement needed will vary, but you should be exploring how to make room for diverse contributions and perspectives from both the top down and bottom up.

Assessment

Ultimately, you know your organization best and can take a leading role in identifying blind spots might exist. Data such as retention rates and exit interviews can tell you a lot about where you may need to improve your EDI strategy and tackle unconscious bias.

From broadening the demographic makeup of your organization to ensuring that exciting opportunities exist for all employees on an ongoing basis, taking a step back and assessing what works and what needs work based on data and facts can transform your operations for the better.

Contact us

To learn more about how best to benefit from a comprehensive EDI approach, explore MNP’s EDI services page and get in touch with an advisor today.

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