What’s your bias?

Listing some biases women and minorities face, and how to address them

Despite some initiatives to break unconscious biases within the workplace, various kinds remain strongly persistent. Biases are usually influenced by background, culture, or personal experiences. Having biases means certain groups of people or individuals are being treated less favourably or discriminated against. Organizations fuel biases by taking biased decisions and developing biased policies. 

Among many kinds of biases that exist within a workplace, below are a few: 

1. Halo effect 

In this world that is still carrying colonial legacies, people from both parts of the world -- those from former colonizing countries and those from former colonies -- have this bias that people who are from certain parts of the world know better and are better at their jobs. 

If someone is from a former colony, and has more knowledge, skills, competencies, and expertise than their colleagues from former colonizer countries, some might still consider the latter as better -- they have biases towards certain skin colour/background/nationality. 

It is not uncommon that “Fatimah” needed several more years of experience and more qualifications than “Evan” to be seen as equally competent or hold the same position. This kind of bias also means judging people based on what we see. 

Often, women who are good looking are perceived as lacking intelligence. People who have a certain academic background, might be perceived as too qualified. People coming from certain socio-economic classes might be perceived as proud or not-a-fit-for certain kinds of roles/tasks. 

2. Name preference

People can be biased to certain kinds of names that are more familiar to them, because that name is “White sounding” or “Latin sounding” or “Christian sounding” or “Muslim Sounding.” 

3. Gender bias

Over the years, research has found that women or LGBT+ candidates, people with disabilities, women in headscarves, and older people are less likely to be hired than their peers. Studies have also found that when recruiters have to choose between a male and a female candidate for a position, they would usually go with the male candidate, as it is more common for men to hold that certain job title or that men are perceived as more worthy of receiving that salary. 

That happens also because of the biases against women -- women are troublemakers at the workplace, or they cannot do their job by themselves -- that they are always depending on others for their work. Women are also judged negatively for being ambitious and the commitment of women with children is questioned.

4. Similarity bias

It is common to see how people prefer people who they already know or with whom they have some commonalities or mutual connections. For example, they might speak in the same language, have the same skin colour, from the same continent, country, or area. 

It is often observed that employees within an organization lobby strongly to hire people they have studied with or worked with in the past. While some organizations might have strict policies around not recruiting family members/relatives of the existing employees or current staff cannot have personal relationships while working with each other, most organizations do not have clear policies around these issues. 

5. Confirmation bias

Some people prefer to be surrounded by people who conform to their beliefs, values, viewpoints, and biases. They feel intimidated or even threatened to be surrounded by people who challenge the status quo or want to explore new ways of doing things. Having this kind of bias might also mean hiring people from “certain” kind of background since it is already known/guaranteed that those new hires will support or follow with no question.

6. Tightrope

This kind of bias means that a narrower range of behaviours is accepted from some groups than from others. Which might mean certain individuals or groups of people might be questioned and asked for explanations for behaving in a certain way or being themselves compared to others. 

This kind of bias might also mean being biased to the dominant culture. That is why, anyone who is not going with the flow can face discrimination.

7. Prove-it-again

It is often observed that certain groups of people (such as the marginalized/the outliers) need to prove themselves many more times in many ways. On the other hand, a broader range of behaviours is often accepted from white men or men in general. 

For example, research shows that assertiveness and anger are less likely to be accepted from people of colour, particularly, women of colour. There are always expectations that women will be modest, self-effacing, and nice, and these expectations often affect performance assessments. 

A study found that 66% of women’s performance appraisals contained comments about their personalities, but only 1% of men’s evaluations did. These double standards can have a real impact on equity outcomes. PayScale found that men of colour were 25% less likely than their white peers to get a raise when they asked for one. These discriminatory gender norms impede careers growth, particularly for women. 

Below are a few ways to address the above discussed biases at workplace: 

1. Building organizational culture

Organizations that are committed to create a bias-free work environment need to develop trust, encourage honesty, and develop the culture to recognize and interrupt biases. First step to tackle bias is to accept that we all have biases. 

Without having the right structures and practices in place, biases usually go unnoticed, unacknowledged, and unaddressed. It is essential to set ground rules -- what is acceptable and what is not. Besides, organizations need to create a culture that encourages open dialogue. That way, when employees realize a decision might have been influenced by unconscious biases, they will not be afraid to speak up to correct the decision. 

For example, if a male colleague talks over a female colleague, tactfully point out that you wanted to hear what she had to say. If your boss only ever assigns the stretching projects to the guys or your white colleagues, have a quiet word.

2. Having diverse leadership and management

If a company’s upper management comprises only of white men or women, unconscious biases will determine which employees are promoted. Organizations need to make it a priority to diversify the management team so that more voices and backgrounds are represented. 

The goal needs to be to create workforces that are more inclusive, and thereby more innovative and more effective. Studies show that well-managed diverse groups outperform homogeneous ones and are more committed, have higher collective intelligence, and are better at making decisions and solving problems.

3. Hiring well

If an organization’s goal is to hire diverse staff, make sure that there is diversity among the group of people who have the hiring responsibility. It is important that the organization makes it clear from the beginning that they want true diversity, not just one female or minority candidate as tokens. 

Organizations need to draft the language of the job advertisements to appeal to a more diverse and more qualified pool of applicants, which includes using gender-neutral language. Moreover, it might be a good strategy to hire candidates “blindly,” ie, not looking at anyone's name or gender, instead hiring on merit alone. Standardizing and structuring the interview process is vital, as unstructured interviews tend to lead to bad hiring decisions. 

4. The right training

Employees need to be trained to build cultural competence so that they understand people coming from diverse backgrounds, instead of criticizing people who are different. Studies show that well-managed diverse groups outperform homogeneous ones and are more committed, have higher collective intelligence, and are better at creativity, decision making, and problem solving. By taking small steps towards the right directions, any organization can transform to become a workplace free of all forms of biases.  

Faria Rashid is a human rights advocate.