How managers can counter hidden bias

Hidden bias affects us all, and yours may surprise you

Organizations are catching on to the need to reflect the diversity of their society. From investment in diversification programs to initiatives to draw more women to corporate boards, the direction is clear and the business case strong.
But it’s not just whether a business can look inward at a visibly diverse group of people. To fully benefit from strong human capital, it’s about whether the diverse perspectives and voices of each in that group are equally, effectively engaged. In other words, to do diversity, you have to do inclusion.
Though talk of diversity and inclusion may recall recent Silicon Valley discrimination lawsuits, it takes less than outright discrimination to make a non-inclusive workplace. The less glamorous but more common, perniciously costly relative of discrimination is hidden bias.  
Hidden bias affects us all, and yours may surprise you. A series of online tests developed by three leading university scientists offer a fascinating tool for self-evaluation. Criteria include gender-career associations, light-dark skin preferences, age, weight and more. It is worth checking out the Project Implicit tests. 
Where such bias plays out can be just as surprising. Job descriptions, administrative tasks, office banter and corporate culture can all reveal it in action, and the cumulative costs can be hard to see if you’re not looking. Uneven compensation, engagement and promotion can lead to costly higher attrition rates. Non-inclusive workplaces can impact your client base and investors. Homogeneity in management can lead to greater risk-taking and lower returns. Meanwhile, diversity has been shown to drive innovation.
Ensuring all your people are hired, engaged and recognized on a level playing field is important to spare you the costs associated with attrition, distraction and worse. Here is a snapshot of some key areas and what you can do.
1. Hiring
The problem: Hidden bias impacts whom you interview and hire, plus how you negotiate and structure compensation.
Tips: (A) Be attentive to the language used in the ad; clearly convey the actual job requirements and nature, and include business information relevant to a wide applicant pool. (B) Use a neutral review process that blinds applicant names. (C) Ensure sufficient standardization in the interview process while being alert to whether your questions are framed in a neutral way. (D) Include more than one interviewer and ensure diversity in the hiring team. (E) Use a consistent formula for calculating compensation based on education, skills, experience and need. (F) Examine and monitor your compensation structure, and take steps to close systemic pay gaps and policy gaps that disproportionately impact certain groups.
2. Mentoring & Promoting
The problem: Hidden bias impacts how and whom you mentor and promote. 
Tips: (A) Use consistent language and metrics for performance reviews, and try a review system that relies on more than one person. (B) Have a structured internal program that ensures mentorship is consistent in its availability, scope and goals. (C) Establish consistent, measurable criteria for promotions and a transparent process for advertising, qualifying for and awarding them. (D) Periodically evaluate diversity at the various levels of your organization.
3. Team-building
The problem: Hidden bias impacts whether the best ideas are rising to the top or coming out at all. It also impacts your team’s productivity and focus.
Tips: (A) Invest in training before issues arise to assist in building cohesive, integrated teams. (B) Ensure meaningful and consistent communication between employees and supervisors as well as between departments. (C) Have a smart policy and approach to discriminatory, offensive language and behaviors in the office favouring awareness and progress over punishment—and enforce it. (D) Pay attention to persistent talking-over, interruption and issues from different communication styles around the table. (E) Be mindful in planning social events and team-bonding activities to ensure accessibility (and hospitability) to all members.
It takes some time to put good policies and systems in place to counter hidden bias. For organizations of any size, however, it will cost you much less time and money in the long run than doing everything ad hoc every time. Ensuring transparency and consistency in how you deal with your people helps build trust, an asset for any business.

Emily Ohler is an international lawyer by background with several years of experience advising the United Nations. Through Vancouver-based Broadleap Solutions Ltd., she is working to effectively mainstream human rights and sustainability principles into the day-to-day business of individuals and organizations with a view to helping them better manage risk while building a better world. Broadleap’s ProspArity division focuses on optimizing human capital and providing training and management consulting to businesses and organizations in the area of gender, diversity and inclusion.