This is a guest post from Johanna Cider. Johanna is a freelance writer from Wellington, New Zealand with a special interest in business, travel and lifestyle topics, as well as experience producing written content for various sites and blogs. Visit Johanna’s Tumblr page to see more of her published work.
With issues of racial discrimination and unequal pay hot topics in the corporate world, the question of how to eliminate bias in the workplace is on every HR professional’s lips.
Discrimination can be overt, but more often, it’s underhand or even unconscious in nature. The human impulse, after all, is to categorize – but when that impulse encroaches into unjust classification according to gender, race, age, or ability, problems arise. Here’s what you can do to help curb bias in your place of work.
Catalogue all possible biases
It’s impossible to prevent biases on the office floor if you haven’t yet identified the many forms that workplace prejudice can take. From affinity bias (the tendency to like another person because they’re similar to you) to the halo effect (the tendency to base your entire opinion of a person on just one of their traits), the first step is to know exactly what bias struggles you are dealing with.
After you’ve done that, undertake a sweep-review of the current employee group. What are the statistical breakdowns for the number of women employed versus men? What’s the racial split? Where are problems likely to arise regarding discrimination? Asking your employees for their feedback directly is the most sure-fire way to flag manifest or latent workplace bias issues, and ensures that communication lines are kept open.
Broaden your candidate criteria
Interviewer bias is a major cause for concern when it comes to work-related discrimination. For example, top-quality candidates may be turned away because they don’t fit with the “culture” of the office – an assumption that may stem from ageism, classism, and aesthetic biases.
For example, if you’re recruiting someone new for an office filled with keen runners, and you decide that the candidate – although suited perfectly for the job – doesn’t quite fit that character bill, then it’s not them that’s the problem, but you. The most assured route to a diverse workforce is broad interviewing criteria, so if your workplace is falling short of this criterion, it may be time to review your policy.
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Review the office setup
Workplace dynamics can be shaped by things as seemingly insignificant as the feng shui of the office. If particular workers are distanced from others because of their desk placement, they may feel lonely or left out socially, too.
Don’t be afraid of criticism or suggestions for improvement from your own team – create an office or HQ environment amenable to interpersonal communication. If you can’t arrange an open-plan office, ensure there are collaborative spaces on the office floor which allow employees to engage in open dialogue with each other during break time.
Have a check-and-balance system in place
If you’re in charge of final decisions regarding employee appointment and issues of workplace bias, the best thing you can do is realize your own limitations. If you don’t already, always check your practices and policies with an objective party.
So, you’ve educated yourself and other HR personnel around the topic of workplace bias; now it’s time to truly bring about change on the office floor.
Lead an annual or biennial training day around bias best practices for the whole office (including CEOs and other execs). Don’t shy away from showing the relevance of such programs. Bring in as many global examples as you need – especially to prove to employees who are stubbornly set in their ways – that addressing unconscious discrimination begins at work.
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Successful team-building efforts contribute immensely to the elimination of bias in the workplace. Often employees just need to break past the initial barrier with their fellow workers to abolish the stereotypical moulds they may have been fitting others into. Cultivate a sense of togetherness by establishing regular happy-hour drinks for staff each week, or perhaps by setting up a biweekly skill-swapping session between departments.