Disengaged employees, hindered by unconscious bias in the workplace, costs U.S. businesses nearly $550 million each year.
And that’s only accounting for loss of productivity.
So, how do we make it stop?
Tony Chatman, a corporate relationship expert, will present “Breaking Bias in the Workplace: Overcoming Unconscious Decisions that Lead to Unexpected Consequences” on July 19, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. as part of the Federally Employed Women’s Virtual Leadership Summit III.
Chatman says awareness is the first step to fight our unconscious biases. He likens bias to a recipe that we have baked inside all of us. “In our minds, we have recipes for what things should be,” says the author of The Force Multiplier: How to Lead Teams Where Everyone Wins.“We have a recipe for what ‘smart’ looks like, for what ‘safe’ looks like, what ‘trustworthy’ looks like.” We don’t always realize that these things happen, and that they are impacting our decision-making. Based on science, 90% of our decisions originate out of our subconscious. We are not consciously making these decisions. Our brain is doing it for us before we realize it.”
He also works hard to remove the stigma from personal bias, which makes the topic easier to discuss.
“Unconscious bias is not a barometer for morality,” he says. “Unconscious bias is a function of how you were raised, your experiences, your education, exposure to television programming, etc. You are not a good or bad person based on your unconscious bias. I’m saying you’re a person. These are the flaws that keep people from making good decisions. Although it’s a method of diversity, inclusion and equity, what we are really doing by being aware is making better decisions.”
Unconscious bias, which can lead to discrimination, takes many forms, ranging from ethnicity, gender, disabilities and weight.
Consider the research:
- Resumes that included photos of female job candidates before they had weight loss surgery scored far lower on leadership potential and starting salary. Thinner women earn $19,000 more annually.
- Candidates who disclosed disabilities were 26% less likely to get responses.
- Resumes with white-sounding names received 50% more calls for interviews than identical resumes with black-sounding names.
- A study of identical resumes found that 79% of applicants with a man’s name versus 49% of those with a woman’s name were “worthy of hire.”
There are several tactics that managers can employ to keep their own biases in check.
Chatman says managers must make themselves aware that bias can impact their own decisions. “Being aware will put you on alert,” he says. “It will make you trust your gut less—that’s critical. Your gut houses all your biases.”
The president of Chatman Enterprises advises managers to volunteer, which will put them in the position to meet different people. To take that thought to the next step, managers could also offer to serve as a mentor to team members at the company. “The bigger your circle, the less likely that you will be influenced by biases,” he says. “It’s huge.”
Removing applicant details also can help hiring managers curb their biases. In other words, no names, photos, zip codes or educational institutions—just skills and experience.
“We have a pre-made suit in our mind. We assess people, not based on their talent, but on whether they fit in the suit,” Chatman says. “Most hiring managers hire people like themselves. That’s who makes them most comfortable. That means the people at the top hire ‘themselves’ and then promote ‘themselves’ so you end up with groupthink. You can’t have diversity of thought if everyone is the same.”
Introducing accountability to the mix is a must. And by adding “accountability,” Chatman isn’t talking about quotas. He suggests that hiring managers should 1) develop a predetermined process, 2) make it transparent and 3) review to see if the process was followed.
For employees who need to build connections with a supervisor who may be biased, Chatman has a few suggestions. First, focus on your first impression, especially your appearance and vernacular. “The first impression is an anchor. It reframes everything people do around you,” he says.
At that point, employees should move out of their own comfort zone to put others at ease.
“Make sure you attend company events because you will need social time with decision-makers so they can become more comfortable with you,” Chatman says. “And when the time is right, ask for a mentor. Networking and mentoring are your two greatest resources to fight bias in the workplace.”
Chatman has worked with hundreds of corporations and government agencies, including the U.S. Secret Service, The Department of Homeland Security, Chase Bank, Estee Lauder, NASA and Jefferson Health to help people reach new heights of effectiveness by understanding themselves and others better. As a leadership keynote speaker, his passion is contagious, and his messages provide practical, usable knowledge that people implement immediately for business and personal success.
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