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How Big Companies Are Tackling Unconscious Bias

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We’ve talked a lot about unconscious bias over the last several months, and we’re not the only ones who have been doing so. While the headlines are full of stories about the effects of unconscious bias on policing, we’ve focused—and continue to focus—on how this psychological phenomenon impacts decisions in the business world. As a brief refresher, unconscious bias is the tendency to judge others based on underlying beliefs or preconceptions of a particular group or type of person. Everyone exhibits unconscious bias, even those who vehemently oppose any form of stereotyping. It’s simply human nature.

As we’ve discussed previously, unconscious bias is often extremely difficult to root out precisely because it’s unconscious.

The first step is helping people to become aware of their biases.

Once those biases have been identified, steps can be taken to proactively address them. That’s precisely what some major global companies are doing to tackle unconscious bias in their own ranks.

In an article for Fortune titled “How Corporate America is Tackling Unconscious Bias,” Elizabeth G. Olson discusses how companies like Google, Roche Diagnostics and Royal Bank of Canada are addressing unconscious bias.

Olson notes that some companies attempt to eliminate the impact of unconscious bias on hiring decisions by removing names and other identifying information from resumes. Unfortunately, this strategy will only go so far. Few, if any, prestigious companies are going to hire someone based solely on a resume. At some point, the applicant’s gender or race will become apparent, not just during the hiring process, but also in the workplace.

Fortunately, the companies Olson looked at are going the extra mile and confronting unconscious bias head-on. Google has been open about its gender diversity gap, recently acknowledging publicly that its workforce is 70 percent male. And, as Olson writes, “Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) started an effort in May 2013 to raise awareness of bias among its 78,000 employees worldwide. Dr. Mahzarin Banaji, a Harvard University social ethics professor who co-authored Blind Spot: The Hidden Biases of Good People, has held sessions for about 1,000 of RBC’s executives to help alert them of their biases.” Roche instituted an 18-month mentor program when it noticed that, although its hiring policies were attracting more women in entry-level positions, women weren’t moving up the corporate ladder as quickly as their male counterparts.

Overcoming unconscious bias is not an easy task.

It’s ingrained, cultural and hidden beneath the surface. Nevertheless, big companies are spending a great deal of time and effort tackling the problem. These for-profit companies obviously see a business reason for doing so, and hopefully others will soon follow suit. Will you?

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