Bias-Proofing Your Workplace

by Jessica Collier 27 June 2019

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Recently, Spot cofounder Dr. Julia Shaw spoke at CogX in London. This festival of events, talks, debates, and exhibits focuses on the people and technologies that are shaping the future of humanity. Her presentation shed light on how our AI-based technology is tackling the challenge of bias in the workplace.

 

It’s time to rethink unconscious bias

With high-profile businesses like Starbucks and Sephora shutting their doors to provide an hour or more of diversity training to all employees, more organizations are looking to combat the damaging effects of unconscious bias. 

In a recent post, I explained why at Spot we simply use “bias” instead of “unconscious bias.” Bias is not always conscious, but it’s not always completely unconscious either. One of the most insidious things about bias is that much of it develops through socialization, without our full awareness. The result is that we frequently don’t realize or acknowledge the extent of our bias. 

We’re all subject to the negative consequences of bias-fueled decision making. But just because bias is sometimes unintentional doesn’t mean we shouldn’t actively address it. This is especially true in the workplace, where unchecked bias can thwart the most well-intentioned diversity initiatives and wreak havoc on culture and productivity.

 

Types of workplace bias

Because bias is rarely explicit, it can be difficult to spot. In order to recognize bias and check it, we need to understand what it looks and sounds like. There are countless types of bias that can affect workplace dynamics, but they typically fall into four main categories.

1. In-group bias is similar to favoritism. Simply put, it’s the tendency to favor individuals who appear to be part of your own group (e.g., ethnicity, religion, gender, etc.).

2. Out-group bias (stereotyping) refers to the tendency to have negative or positive thoughts about groups you view as different from yourself. These thoughts may or may not reflect reality.

3. Out-group bias (prejudice) involves a (typically negative) prejudgement about an individual or group. This prejudgement isn’t grounded in personal experience.

4. Confirmation bias is the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one's existing beliefs or theories. 

Left unchecked, these typical biases can lead to overt incidents of harassment and discrimination in your organization.

 

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Human thinking is flawed

It’s clear that bias can creep into our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in many forms. People often don’t realize, for example, that height and weight bias are issues in the workplace. But bias is so deeply embedded in human behavior that more thinking about it is unlikely to fix it. So what can? 

Take humans out of the equation whenever possible. Use technology to streamline the process of investigating unfair treatment and inappropriate behavior, and to remove bias from those investigations.

Review your pipeline numbers and believe them. Acknowledge the inherent presence of bias within your organization. Take active steps to get outside of your networks, where you’re more likely to find people who are just like you, thereby perpetuating in-group bias. 

Implement blind processes. And this isn’t just limited to screening applicants and hiring anymore. Engagement efforts and reporting initiatives can also be blind with the right technology.

Prepare for bias and inappropriate behavior. It’s hard to avoid bias entirely. As a result, harassing and discriminatory behavior ends up happening at most organizations. Do your best to check that behavior, but give people the tools to speak up without fear when things go wrong.

 

Better technology, better outcomes

While there’s no perfect solution that will remove bias from your workplace entirely, new technology is making it easier for organizations to take humans out of many HR processes and to drastically reduce bias. 

When individuals can report without worrying about bias or retaliation, they’re more likely to give you a real picture of what’s going on inside your organization. With better data, you can take active measures to train employees and address issues before they escalate.  

Spot uses AI to help employees report without talking to a human, then allows HR to follow up on reports without compromising anonymity. Interested in Spot for your organization? You can reach us at hello@talktospot.com. You can also start a free trial

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