#34 Bias in HR
We all try and be the best version of ourselves, but biases can be sneaky SOBs, so it’s worth your time to try and uncover yours and help others uncover theirs.
Regardless of what you're about to do; a job interview, a client meeting, options assessment, buying lunch, dressing yourself; step one is always to seek to eliminate your bias.
What is a bias?
Bias refers to a “tendency or inclination, particularly one that is unfair or prejudicial”. It can take many forms and can be based on a wide range of characteristics, such as race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, nationality, and more (there’s a huge list on Wikipedia). One interesting bias is the “bias bias” which is where you’re biased to thinking you don’t have biases (how many times can I use the word “bias” in the email?” Bias can be conscious or unconscious, and it can manifest itself in a person's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Our upbringing, environment, media consumption and other stuff can surreptitiously reinforce or introduce biases, so we need to guard against them deliberately. It’s no good assuming you aren’t biased (the bias bias) so assume you are and work to remove them.
Biases, whether conscious or unconscious, can have a detrimental impact on decision making. In our industry, biases can lead to discrimination and unfair treatment of employees or marking down perfectly good candidates for ideal roles in the hiring process. This can not only harm the individuals involved, but it can also have a negative impact on the overall success and culture of an organization. It's pretty dang important for people people to take steps to eliminate bias.
How to identify and overcome bias
The most obvious way to to do this is by implementing diversity and inclusion initiatives. These can be things like training programs on unconscious bias, as well as hiring and promotion practices that aim to increase diversity within the organization. These aren’t easy though - trying to ensure you make these stick and people don’t treat them as a box ticking exercise is a challenge, but one worth cracking. Additionally, you can set goals and metrics to track progress in promoting diversity and inclusion. But remember, what gets measured gets improved. So spend some time working out what is important to measure and the consequences of those this improving (positive bias is still a bias).
Another important step in eliminating bias in HR is to ensure that hiring and promotion decisions are based on objective criteria. This means using standardised job descriptions and evaluation systems that are free from bias. It also means avoiding relying solely on subjective factors such as referrals from current employees, people will always bias towards ‘people like me’ and you don’t want a company full of clones. Instead, use a variety of methods to assess candidates, such as skills tests (blergh), interviews (yawn), and work samples (Do I get paid?).
What’s the point if I can’t get rid of them?
Ultimately, you’re trying to create a workplace culture that values diversity and inclusivity. Reinforce this with things like creating employee resource groups for underrepresented people, or providing support and resources for employees from diverse backgrounds. By creating a culture that values and respects all individuals, organizations can help to eliminate bias by educating people and promote a more inclusive workplace.
It's also pretty dang important for people professionals to be aware of their own biases and work to mitigate them. Practice self-awareness as often as you can - this can involve things like self-reflection, mediation (blergh) and seeking out and being open to feedback from others. You can also find specific training training and development opportunities to learn more about bias and how to overcome it. By being proactive and constantly seeking to improve, peopl professionals can help to create a more inclusive and fair workplace.
Look, we all try and be the best version of ourselves, but biases can be sneaky SOBs, so it’s worth your time to try and uncover yours and help others uncover theirs. Being aware of your bias, no matter how mild or maniac it might be, will only assist you in your self-awareness and ability to judge others’ fairly. Our jobs, as people pros, is to enable this level of self-awareness in our colleagues in order that our organisations are diverse, welcoming and excellent.
Often overlooked yet so important aspect of our lives and especially at work.
Cross-posted to Joy@Work