Saturday, September 17, 2016

Impact of Hidden Biases on Diversity and Inclusion


In The Sociology of Discrimination: Racial Discrimination in Employment, Housing, Credit, and Consumer Markets, (a PubMed article) published by the NCBI, which reviews relevant literature concerning discrimination, specifically about racial discrimination in the 4 areas mentioned in the title, and provides an overview of major findings of the numerous studies of discrimination, it is mentioned that in the field of employment, African Americans are twice as likely to be unemployed as whites (Hispanics are only marginally so), and the wages of both blacks and Hispanics continue to lag well behind those of whites (author’s analysis of Current Population Survey, 2006).

The findings of those studies show racial disparities in labor market outcomes are due more to factors that precede labor market entry (e.g., skill acquisition) rather than discrimination within the labor market.

The article further notes that the processes affecting access to employment (e.g., the influence of first impressions, the absence of more reliable information on prospective employees, and minimal legal oversight) may be more subject to discriminatory decision making than those affecting wages.

Bias can also come into play when employers make decisions on who to hire. Unconscious biases may stem from any racial prejudices and racial stereotypes. These attitudes (racial prejudices) and beliefs (racial sterotypes) can lead to discrimination.

According to Wikipedia, stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination are understood as related but different concepts. Stereotypes are regarded as the most cognitive component and often occurs without conscious awareness, whereas prejudice is the affective component of stereotyping and discrimination is one of the behavioral components of prejudicial reactions.


What are biases? How do they affect the promotion of diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

Biases are cognitive in nature. They are notions we have of other people, but which we often are unaware of.

There are different types of cognitive biases, those annoying glitches in our thinking that cause us to make questionable decisions and reach erroneous conclusions. Some common cognitive biases are:

Confirmation bias - the often unconscious act of referencing only those perspectives that fuel our pre-existing views, while at the same time ignoring or dismissing opinions — no matter how valid — that threaten our world view;
Ingroup bias - a manifestation of our innate tribalistic tendencies;
Gambler's fallacy – so called because it is heavily based on our previous experiences or events, and believing these will influence future outcomes.
Bandwagon effect – or what can be called as groupthink.

As implied by the above as well as the other types of cognitive bias, they cause us to form irrational judgment and wrong decisions.

We do have our biases, our so-called 'blind spot' and these hidden biases affect the way we assess others, in positive and/or negative ways. Even among the best of us who have good intentions fall prey to the urging of favoring, rightly of wrongly, one individual or group over another.

Research point to this fact. For example, in one study by researchers from Carnegie Mellon University, the City University London, Boston University and the University of Colorado, Boulder, (published in Management Science), the most striking finding was: everyone is affected by blind spot bias — only one adult out of 661 said that he/she is more biased than the average person. However, they did find that the participants varied in the degree in which they thought they were less biased than others. This was true irrespective of whether they were actually unbiased or biased in their decision-making.

More often, being having one-sided opinion or being partial cause us to see the good in others different from us in terms of perspective and working style, among other differences, so we miss golden opportunties to engage with these people, or to live or work with them in peace and harmony.

Yes, th
at is what happens when biases get the better of us.

Negative biases we form about others act like walls, deterring us from seeing the good in others, and can reinforce our sense of superiority over others. Likewise our positive biases – those that we nurture in favor of those who belong in our groups or are similar to us, and share our pre-conceived ideas and opinions – may blind us to their faults (unjust criticisms/treatment of others) – so we unwittingly come to tolerate such unfair acts.

Thus, it is especially critical for employers, hiring managers, top decision makers, to be able to identify their own blind spots in order to overcome them. Blind spots may cloud their judgment and affect their decisions regarding job applicants as well as employees being groomed for promotion.

According to the book, Blind Spots: Why We Fail to Do What's Right and What to Do about It, by Max H. Bazerman, a professor at Harvard Business School, and Ann E. Tenbrunsel, a professor of business ethics at the University of Notre Dame, there is a gap between intended and actual behavior.
The rapidly developing field of behavioral ethics has described a decision-making process whereby we recognize what we should do—give equal weight to job candidates of all races, for example—but in the end do what we want to do—hire just white candidates. - See more here:

As such, biases can undermine diversity efforts and minorities such as African Americans will continue to be marginalized or worse, be subject to racial harrasment or violence. Women will continue to face obstacles as they climb the corporate ladder and break the proverbial glass ceiling.

As this article on unconscious biases lists among the consequences and costs of unconscious bias:
members of minority groups or groups who are quite different to the make-up of senior executives, and who have high capability and potential, may be missed by the usual talent identification programme because they are different. This may lead to high turnover of capable individuals who are unable to progress and therefore leave to seek opportunities elsewhere.


How to identify hidden/unconscious biases?

Fortunately, unconscious bias can now be measured, helping individuals see their possible biases as an important step in understanding the roots of stereotypes and prejudice in our society.

Managers and executives, even employees, can benefit from taking the Reiss Motivation Profile® (RMP), a standardized, comprehensive assessment of a person's needs, interests, motives, and life goals. It will help them identify their blind spots.

How to manage or overcome hidden/unconscious biases? In other words, how to not let blind spots influence decisions in areas of recruitment, hiring, performance evaluation, promotion/retention of personnel.

Managers can follow the way of some companies, that is to strip resumes of names and other identifying information and assigning numbers, according to the article, “How corporate America is tackling unconscious bias.” Another is to not hire in one's image. - See here

This article also shares ways to overcome hidden biases, among which is to recognize that as human beings, our brains make mistakes without us even knowing it. Without accepting this fact, it will be difficult to change our perception of people, running the risk of discriminating against others.

But a pro-active approach to biases will help ensure diversity working in the workplace and in the society.

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