Businessolver Blog

It Starts at the Top: How Leaders Can Address Workplace Bias

It Starts at the Top: How Leaders Can Address Workplace Bias
Posted on Thursday, June 28, 2018 by Rae Shanahan

Whether we realize it or not, every one of us carries preconceptions and even biases about the world around us.

how-leadership-can-address-workplace-biasWe like to think that we’re not biased against any person or group, but in truth, our actions and opinions are influenced by many factors we may not always be aware of.

In the workplace, it’s vital for leaders to address biases—both in themselves and in the larger organization. Harassment scandals have engulfed companies in recent years, and the damage to recruitment and employee retention, not to mention sales or profitability, can be permanent for a company that permits a hostile workplace culture or doesn’t value inclusiveness.

What can leaders do to ensure their organization addresses bias head on and creates an inclusive environment? Here are three steps to begin the process:

  1. Self-reflection. As a leader, you should examine your own biases first and ask yourself why you may have preconceptions about others. Become aware of affinity bias, which is “the tendency to gravitate toward and develop relationships with people who are more like ourselves and share similar interests and backgrounds.” This unconscious bias can lead to exclusion of those who are different than you—whether in the recruitment process or the forming of networks in the workplace. Becoming aware of how you interact with people and who you form relationships with will help you expand networks and opportunities beyond your unconscious affinity.
  2. Watch your language. Of course, slurs and insults will immediately create a hostile, unwelcoming workplace environment. But even when language isn’t blatantly offensive, it can still communicate biases in a more subtle way. Do you find yourself saying things like “A manager should know his responsibilities,” or “Our new nurse, who is she?” Addressing people or groups with monolithic terms can make diverse populations feel unwelcome or out of place. Words matter, so we should always choose them thoughtfully.
  3. Embrace diversity in leadership. When members of an underrepresented group see someone like themselves—for example, a woman in a leadership position—it reduces self-doubt and alienation that can deter them from pursuing a career path or a particular role. This inclusion of minorities and women is critical to encouraging more diverse talent development and a management pipeline that is reflective of our society.

Emphasizing diverse leadership also increases a company’s “empathy quotient” —in fact, over two-thirds of employees we surveyed in our 2018 State of Workplace Empathy study agreed that diversity in leadership results in more empathetic organizations. With 9 in 10 employees reporting they’re more likely to stay with an empathetic employer, it’s imperative that companies increase their focus on empathy and inclusiveness in leadership positions to foster a more diverse set of opinions, communication preferences, and leadership methods.  

Overcoming bias isn’t a one-time effort—it takes continual reflection and sustained momentum to recognize and overcome ingrained attitudes and behaviors. But, it’s more important than ever for organizations to create inclusive, welcoming workplaces for all employees, and when leaders show their commitment, it inspires all levels of their organization.