3 Ways Companies Can Inspire Inclusivity and Remove Unconscious Bias


By Dr. Art Langer, Chairman & Founder of Workforce Opportunity Services (WOS) and HR West 2019 Speaker.


This article was originally published on wforce.org on Jan 15, 2019

As the saying goes, admitting you have a problem is the first step toward recovery. At least, that’s the approach that GoDaddy, a web hosting company, took to address the unconscious bias against women.

“The most important thing we did was normalize acknowledging that everyone has biases, whether they recognize them or not,” Debra Weissman, a senior vice president at GoDaddy, told The New York Times. “We had to make it O.K. for people to say, ‘I think I’m being unintentionally unfair.’”

Unconscious biases, or implicit biases, are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness, often in conflict or incompatible with their conscious beliefs. Anything about a person—gender, age, race, ethnicity, disability, hometown, religion, clothes, diet preferences—can inspire an unconscious bias toward them.

There are many ways in which unconscious bias has the potential to cripple a business, such as attracting an onslaught of negative publicity or a discrimination lawsuit that drains a company’s finances and reputation. But it also has a negative impact within the company, specifically on its culture. It can lead to diverse talent being overlooked in the hiring or promotion process, causing resentment among those who feel ignored and unvalued. Over time this can create an unhappy and stale workplace, thereby decreasing productivity and silencing ideas that can foster innovation.

Here are 3 simple ways to address unconscious bias to foster a united culture of inclusivity and one where voicing diverse opinions are encouraged:


1. Retire unfair application requirements and biased promotion decisions

Requesting headshots of candidates is an antiquated practice that prevents a person from applying for a job without disclosing their race, age, gender or even religion. This can make applicants uncomfortable and may lead to accusations of bias and a discriminatory hiring process. Similarly, it’s illegal for companies to ask that candidates define their gender, age, race, religion, national origin, disability or marital status in an application. Company leaders should also be extra careful that their decisions to refer or promote certain people are objective and not based on which candidate most closely embodies their ideals.

2. Create and embrace your diversity statement

Whether it’s dedicating just a few sentences to highlighting the diversity statement on the company website (even just 20 to 75 words is shown to be effective) or setting aside an entire page disclosing how your company values a diverse workforce, publicly sharing your commitment to diversity is an easy way to promote an inclusive workplace and make all job candidates, and employees, feel welcome.

3. Accommodate the requests of a diverse staff

Diverse employees have diverse needs, and companies should be cognizant of them. Mothers returning from maternity leave may need a private place to pump milk. People with disabilities must be able to easily navigate the building and its facilities. Those who practice a religion other than Christianity need time off to observe major holidays, like Yom Kippur for those of the Jewish faith, or Eid, the last day of Ramadan, for those who practice Islam. Legally, companies must accommodate for religious observances, but they should also create a comfortable atmosphere for doing so.

Addressing unconscious bias is an arduous process requiring a company and its staff to take a hard look at the reasoning behind their beliefs, decisions and actions. By starting with a few small alterations in the hiring process and workplace, companies can begin the journey toward removing toxic practices and creating a thriving work environment.

Dr. Arthur Langer is Director of the Center for Technology Management at Columbia University and Chairman and Founder of Workforce Opportunity Services (WOS), a nonprofit with a mission of developing the skills of untapped talent from underserved and veteran communities through partnerships with organizations dedicated to diversifying their workforce. Since its inception in 2005, WOS has served 3,800+ individuals through partnerships with more than 65 corporations in 60+ locations worldwide. For more information, please visit www.wforce.org.

Dr Langer will present his session, The Untapped Talent of Underserved Communities, at HR West 2019 on Tuesday (March 12th)  3:25 p.m.-4:40 p.m.

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