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Tech and Innovation

3 Ways to Eliminate Bias and Microaggressions in the Workplace

In the workplace, bias can be a divisive and disruptive obstacle. This is especially true when companies don’t get out in front of it. By taking steps to cultivate a bias-free workplace, companies can avoid pitfalls and evoke a positive and productive corporate atmosphere.

Bias isn’t always loud and obvious — in some cases, it can be downright subtle. Regardless, all forms of bias can damage organizational trust and solidarity, even if some people remain unaware of verbal or behavioral slights and microaggressions.

How can we shine a light on those elusive and fleeting biases? It comes down to what former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall called “the quality of your intent” regarding what was said or done. Marshall argued that intent “always comes through,” meaning that bias is bias no matter how unconscious or unintentional it might be.

Unconscious bias happens in the shadows of the mind, often as a conditioned response built over time. But its impact can negatively influence a company’s overall cultural tenor, productivity, and collective stress level.

The Impact of Rampant Bias in the Workplace

Going to work shouldn’t be stressful. It should be a chance to collaborate with teammates to give a competitive edge to a company. A workplace brimming with bias becomes an uncomfortable setting, especially for marginalized personnel.

Over time, workers whose contributions go unnoticed or unaccepted due to bias naturally tend to shut down. According to Sylvia Ann Hewlett, co-author of “Disrupt Bias, Drive Value,” perceived bias has untold consequences for employers. As Hewlett explained in an interview, corporations are spending billions to beat back bias. The reason? According to a Gallup study, employee disengagement limits a company’s ability to innovate and costs American businesses an estimated $450 to $550 billion annually.

Recognizing the negative aspects of bias is one thing, but solving it at a root level is another matter altogether. Bias can be tough to detect and discuss — even when leaders know the benefits of building diversity in the workplace.

What employees need is an ongoing process for openly discussing inclusion-related topics. To do this, businesses need to stop seeing bias as a one-and-done training program and start focusing efforts on fostering long-term, substantive change.

How to Eliminate Bias in the Workplace

Maintaining a work environment that openly values team members’ differences doesn’t happen overnight. But with effective and consistent planning, it’s possible to uncover and replace unintentional bias and microaggressions with empathy, welcoming attitudes, and the belief that every voice matters.

Below are three recommended steps to curb bias within your business.

  1. Rigorously enforce anti-harassment policies.
    People become notoriously reluctant to admit they’ve offended others, self-report bias, or present themselves in a less-than-favorable light. Even victims of bias may be reluctant to bring up their experiences because they fear retaliation — particularly when someone makes an offensive joke without any sort of reprimand.

    Creating and sharing anti-harassment expectations that hold everyone accountable shows your company takes offensive behavior seriously and embraces corporate transparency. Just remember to make it easy for employees to report. Otherwise, you could miss the opportunity to stop bias.

    We’ve set up several review channels to get ahead of bias, including an anonymous ethics hotline that any team members can use if they’ve suffered from bias or observed it. It’s been successful in helping us investigate, address, and resolve offending behaviors we might otherwise miss.

  2. Live out a credo of respect and inclusion.
    Do your core values speak of everyone’s importance? Make it effortless for workers to practice those corporate beliefs by enabling people to celebrate their colleagues.

    Our team has developed an app that gives us the ability to spotlight core value-linked actions taken by co-workers. And each week, our senior leadership team recognizes a couple of team members for their values-driven accomplishments. These small nods encourage everyone to make more caring choices every day.

  3. Provide forums for talking about respectful teamwork.
    Bias isn’t something that comes up during most Zoom happy hour discussions. You have to put it front and center. Why not initiate a newsletter? Our news-based publication includes articles about everything from handling disputes to managerial tips focused on combating bias.

    We’ve also instituted a monthly quiz as part of the newsletter. Winners receive prizes, boosting responses and engagement. We even host employee-driven quarterly town meetings where team members submit questions that top executives respond to directly and frankly.

    Don’t believe that unintentional bias in the workplace can’t be overcome. Yes, bias may be hard to single out. But the more familiar everyone becomes with the concept, the more easily we can weaken its impact.

Written by Susan Baxter. Have you read?
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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - Tech and Innovation - 3 Ways to Eliminate Bias and Microaggressions in the Workplace
Susan Baxter
Susan Baxter is the senior vice president of HR atIntegrity Staffing Solutions, a full-service staffing agency that ranks in the top 2% of agencies across the country for quality service based on ClearlyRated’s “Best of Staffing” client survey.

Susan Baxter is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow her on LinkedIn.