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Consciously ‘Unconscious’ Biased: Part 2

Sally Schott

April 12, 2019 > thumnail

In my last blog post, I wrote about how we all have unconscious biases. Left unchecked, unconscious biases will limit diversity in our workplaces and, can greatly erode the confidence of our employees over time. Unfortunately, awareness of unconscious biases is not enough to reduce the impact of bias in the workplace. Individually we should take steps to increase our exposure to a more diverse group of people and be more inclusive. Organizationally, we need to lead the redesign of our management processes to be less prone to bias. SOAR has spent over the last 20 years helping companies build diverse and inclusive teams. Our comprehensive experience has shown that individuals and companies who have the most success excel at the following:


Increase the Diversity of our Networks: I recently did an exercise at a workshop where I asked everyone to write down the names of up to 10 people in their network that they interacted with during the past week. I then asked everyone to list the ethnicity, political persuasion, age, sexual orientation, ability status, marital status of each. The result – most people have very homogenous networks. But exposure to people who are not like us, over time, will start to shift our unconscious biases. For example, we rarely apply stereotypes to people we interact with on a regular basis. As an added benefit, having a more diverse network also leads to more career success because we have more exposure to new and different ideas. I challenge all of us to identify at least one person in our existing networks who will broaden our exposure. Schedule time to meet with them (a meal, invite to an event, etc.). Then set a recurring monthly task or calendar invitation to reach out to someone who will help increase the diversity of our networks.

Adopt ‘Inclusive Leadership’ Behaviors: The Center for Talent Innovation has identified six key behaviors that managers can adopt to be more inclusive and they are surprisingly simple. Inclusive leaders:

  1. Ensure that all team members speak up and are heard
  2. Make it safe to propose new an unique ideas
  3. Empower team members to make decisions
  4. Take advice and implement feedback
  5. Give actionable feedback (hint: use examples)
  6. Share credit for team success

Lead by Example: Finally, we can all start to talk about unconscious bias. I encourage the leaders I work with to start by sharing articles and stories to help educate their colleagues. Visibly supporting under-represented groups by being an “ally”, and, if you see bias at work, point it out (here is a great article on how to do this tactfully).


Ultimately, our organizations also need to step up and redesign the processes most prone to unconscious bias. I encourage everyone to look at their company’s hiring, performance assessment, and promotion decision processes first. Here are some ways to reduce bias in each of these three areas:


  1. Remove demographic indicators from resumes
  2. Increase number of assessors
  3. Use objective criteria and structured interviews

Performance Evaluations:

  1. Crowdsource feedback
  2. Calibrate reviews
  3. Use objective criteria and ratings
  4. Use software that can find and highlight language that suggests unconscious bias

Promotion or Development Opportunity Decisions:

  1. Remove demographic indicators from candidate descriptions
  2. Use data, not just anecdotes
  3. Have clear, objective criteria
  4. Pair mentors based on differences, not just similarities

At the very least, we can all identify one decision that may be prone to bias and look for ways to bring in more objective criteria and data to make that decision. I would love to know what are you doing to reduce the impact of your unconscious biases. Want to discuss how we can help your organization? Contact Us.