Unconscious Bias: How It’s Affecting Your Workplace

by Pranav Ramesh
June 16, 2021
Diverse professionals engaged in a meeting, emphasizing inclusivity and diversity in the workplace.

2019 brought a startling revelation in the life of Chanin Kelly-Rae, a successful African American woman. After two decades of experience in the Washington State governor’s office, she took on a role as the global manager of diversity at Amazon. The corporate workplace, global presence, and influential network of the organization were alluring. But there was something wrong with the company’s culture that made Kelly-Rae quit. Kelly-Rae soon realized that Amazon had deep, systemic issues that put Black and other underrepresented communities of employees at risk. It was a shocking revelation to see that internal experts and Amazon’s leadership did not identify or fix the problem once they were made aware.

Amazon, according to Kelly-Rae, was taking steps backward when it came to its diversity and inclusion efforts. And there was no meaningful effort from the leadership team to help underrepresented employees feel welcome. In less than a year, Kelly-Rae quit the well-paying job with all its perks and status. This isn’t the first time Amazon is facing flack for failing to build a corporate-wide environment where minorities are respected.

Leaders cannot expect to build an equal opportunity workplace by simply hiring a diverse workforce. Instead, they will have to address the unlevel playing field and create an equal opportunity workplace. They should create a resilient workplace where the employees are sensitive, adaptive, and inclusive. In addition, the leaders need to work on shoring up the cultural foundation of the organization. Organizations have to focus on creating an inclusive workspace rather than emphasizing completing a diversity module. Overcoming unconscious bias and creating an inclusive workspace cannot be a once-a-year activity — it has to be an ongoing practice. We perceive a person’s characteristics based on their race, gender, religion, height, age, looks, and even hair color. This is bad, not just for society but for business too!

This affects employee morale, performance, and engagement, which in turn leads to low customer satisfaction and bad financial performance. McKinsey reported that companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity have 35% higher financial returns than the industry median. How then, can organizations embrace an inclusive culture? Is there a way to change the dialogue around diversity and make it more than just stats?

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Change the way you hire

Gender and racial discrimination in recruitment have been prevalent for several decades now. However, combating bias in recruitment is the first step to ensuring the workplace’s well-intentioned diversity and inclusion programs.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s “blind auditions” is probably the best-known example of an attempt to fight bias at the workplace. To reduce gender and racial discrimination in hiring, Boston Symphony’s orchestra directors held blind auditions.

The candidates had to stand behind a screen and play for a jury who could not see them until the hiring decision was made. Research suggests that this has increased the likelihood of women being recruited in orchestras by over 50% and has since been successfully adopted by numerous orchestras worldwide.Recruiters are experimenting with blind auditions across organizations. They screen candidates based on their qualifications and experience alone. The resumes and applications do not contain the name, schools, or regional background of the applicant, to prevent similarity bias. Instead, the applicants are expected to solve problems that involve ski