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As an Employer What Steps Can You Take to Keep Workplace Bias at Bay As an employer, it is your duty to ensure the safety and welfare of your employees which includes making sure that everyone is treated fairly

By Roberta Rincon

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We register and process an enormous amount of information on a daily basis. To simplify it, our minds start to classify the information. This empowers us to understand how to react to specific situations and objects which sometimes leads to stereotyping and categorizing people. Our surroundings and socio-cultural experiences build our values and belief system which influences how we perceive and evaluate others. This often can result in behaviour and decisions based on bias. While our actions may seem fairly innocuous, they can have massive repercussions.

In professional life, biases can be destructive and can trigger us to make decisions that are not objective. In its study, Walking the Tightrope: An Examination of Bias in India's Engineering Workplace, it was found that these biases can affect decisions in hiring, performance evaluations, and assignments. The study (done by SWE and the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law) highlights the biases and stereotypes that impact engineers in the workplace. Engineers who reported experiencing these biases also indicated a desire to leave their current employer. In order to attract and retain talent, organizations should create a diverse, engaging and inclusive culture where employees are recruited and promoted based on their abilities, and everyone gets equal space and opportunity to grow. What comes as a surprise is that these biases are not gendered specific. For instance, as per the SWE report, 78per cent women and 77per cent men experienced bias in promotions while in hiring 54per cent men and 45per cent of women reported experiencing bias.

As an employer, it is your duty to ensure the safety and welfare of your employees which includes making sure that everyone is treated fairly. You should strive to create a workplace which allows everyone to grow and advance. What can employers do to keep biases from negatively impacting their efforts to ensure a fair and equitable workplace for everyone? To reach this goal, it is important to eliminate bias, stop letting discrimination influence decision-making and remove stereotypes. Here are some steps which will help you to do this.

Recognize the Problem and Build Awareness

Knowing and accepting is half the battle. To be able to eradicate a problem, it is important to recognize its presence. The first step to reduce bias is to be aware of what it is and how it can impact others. Educate your employees about how typecast works. The goal of this exercise is to let people scrutinize their behaviour and make the decision-making process more conscious. People are not always aware of their prejudices. They do not realize when these subconscious preferences start affecting their decision-making.

Establish Evaluation Criteria

Set clear criteria in advance for your decisions on processes like hiring and promotion. Formalize the criteria. The more formal it is, the higher the chances of underrepresented minorities getting hired. Be transparent in your actions. Stick to job requirements when hiring. Select the person who meets the requirements. Do not take into consideration any other factors. Scrutinize the criteria. Look at the existing criteria objectively to check if it is filtering out a specific set of candidates unintentionally.

Regularly Review the Policy

Develop policies that forbid bias. Document all the necessary laws. Be clear about what defines bias and discrimination. Make sure that policies are enforced and executed properly. It is imperative that everyone knows it is a priority. Make a company-wide announcement on making bias alleviation a priority and set the expectations. Routinely review the policies to make sure their efficacy is maintained. Keep them detailed and up-to-date. Set down in black and white, the consequences for defying any policy.

Take action

It is important for the people of an organization to stay proactive and prevent such happenings. Being proactive may reduce the chances of bias to a large extent but it does not guarantee its eradication. Discrimination can be precipitated by anyone in the organization, but it is primarily your responsibility as an employer to monitor discrimination at your workplace. If you encounter any incident or complaints of discrimination, respond to them. Train managers on how to deal with such cases of inappropriate behaviour immediately and confidentially. Set examples. Hold the person responsible who is involved in decision-making processes. Explaining to others the decisions that someone makes, forces the person to evaluate and reason them.

Roberta Rincon

Senior Manager of Research, The Society of Women Engineers

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