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What Can Leaders Do to Address Workplace Bias?

Updated: Aug 24, 2020

The Black Lives Matter movement has brought to the forefront the reality that more people are feeling marginalized and stressed. This reality has resulted in employees expressing increased concerns about workplace bias, discrimination and exclusion. As a leader, it’s important to recognize these concerns and the impact on culture, employee engagement and productivity, even while many of us are working remotely. Workplace bias, unconscious or conscious, can also cause organizations to make employment decisions that are perceived as unfair or discriminatory.

Now, more than ever, employers must examine their Human Resources practices and policies and should take the opportunity to demonstrate that their employees are respected and treated equitably. Just as the #MeToo movement has helped raise awareness for sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace, the #BlackLivesMatter movement brings attention to the indignities, racism and discrimination occurring in the world today.

As a leader, here are some things that you can do to guard against workplace bias, discrimination, and exclusion:

Create a company statement

Issue a statement that sets the expectation that all employees should be treated with dignity and respect and list the actions that you are taking to mitigate all types of bias and discrimination in the workplace. In addition, remind employees to report concerns about workplace bias, discrimination, and exclusion and any other potential violation of your discrimination/harassment policy or code of conduct to the company’s HR department. Creating a culture of inclusion wherein people can voice their opinions doesn’t mean that we can disregard how the message is shared.

Update policies and practices

Make it clear that anyone who violates the company’s discrimination/harassment policy will be subject to discipline, up to and including termination.

Review your company’s policies and practices to be sure that you are not introducing or allowing bias. Look for ways the company can create a more inclusive environment and encourage open communications respecting diverse opinions. Here’s an initial list of programs to review:

  • Recruiting policies and programs (How can you widen the net? How can you update qualifications that might currently exclude rather than include?)

  • Performance management (Are managers aware of cues that employees may be feeling marginalized? Are managers equipped to deal with performance issues?)

  • Mentorship programs (Are opportunities for everyone? How are employees made aware of opportunities?)

  • Management training (Are there clear expectations about employment decisions? How confident are you that policies and procedures are implemented in a consistent fashion?)

Walk the talk

Sure, we know it’s important to make it clear that anyone who violates the company’s discrimination/harassment policy will be subject to discipline, but are we really walking the talk? What grades would you and your managers receive from your team? Are you perceived as a respectful leader? Do your employees believe that you demonstrate active listening? Are you perceived to be fair? Remember this goes beyond what you think, it’s also very much about how you and your managers are perceived.

Create awareness and build and nurture a culture of inclusion

Create bias awareness by providing Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) training for all employees including managers and executives. Too often, managers and executives are exempted from attending because they don’t believe that attending the sessions are a “good use of time” or that other priorities are more important. However, leaders need to be aware that when they choose not to participate, they send the message that diversity and inclusion is not important. More significantly, by not participating, leaders pass up the opportunity to be a part of the discussion. It’s impossible to listen if you are not present.

D&I Training, when done well, is a great way to model active and respectful listening so that employees have the opportunity to come together to voice different perspectives and learn from each other. Without diversity of opinions, our world would be void of innovation and creativity. I’m sure many of you would agree that “out of the box thinking” is often what leads to Company success; this is just one reason why leaders must encourage, celebrate and recognize divergent opinions.

Create a task force within your company to address concerns about bias, discrimination and exclusion. By simply focusing on race and gender, you may inadvertently marginalize others. Allow employees to have a voice, be open to listening to what problems exist in the workplace and take action to build solutions together. Encourage self-learning and conversations in the workplace. This is as much about listening as it is about being heard.

Keep your head out of the sand

Conduct a workplace climate survey and listen to what your employees are telling you. As a leader, don’t get caught off guard or be biased in your thoughts. Involve your employees and ask them to share their thoughts. Often employees tell us that their managers should have been aware that there were issues.

Conduct exit interviews to find out what people want to tell you. As leaders, it’s easy to discount what departing employees tell you as “sour grapes”, but sometimes, it’s the best opportunity to get the truth.

Respond promptly

Make sure your employees know where to report any complaints whether it be to their manager, the diversity committee, an anonymous hotline, or Human Resources. It is the employer’s responsibility to promptly respond to all complaints (internal or external) by immediately investigating and taking appropriate action.

The bottom line:

Leaders have to lead the charge by taking the time to find ways to build a more inclusive workplace - free of improper bias, discrimination, or harassment. This means that effective leaders should take the time for self-reflection and active listening. Find ways to involve your employees in the journey towards positive change. Lastly, consider that when leading an organization committed to diversity and a culture of inclusion, there is no “right” answer, but there are a few “wrong” answers.

If you’re looking at ways to guard against workplace bias, discrimination and exclusion, feel free to give us a call. The HR Manager consultants are available assist. We can conduct virtual training sessions for you and your employees. To find out more, contact us here!

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