Creating a Culture Free of Bias, Prejudice, and Harassment
2020 has been a year of many developments, and certainly one of the most important of these has been the dramatic increase in awareness of the biases and prejudices within our society and the ongoing challenges people face — whether at work or at home. To help businesses take steps to ensure that their own internal practices, policies, and procedures are in line with established Best Practices, here are some ideas to consider.
RECOGNIZE THAT BIAS DOES EXIST
First, it is important to acknowledge that everyone has preferences. Most of the time, these preferences are neutral, such as preferring one type of food or movie over another. The human brain tends to group things together for easy processing, and it creates shortcuts for rapid decision-making. But when these nearly inevitable and unconscious preferences start spilling over into workplace decisions related to hiring, firing, promotions, and compensation, that is when it can become a problem.
A survey jointly conducted in 2017 by Honesty Consulting (Chicago) and VitalSmarts (Salt Lake City), revealed that two-thirds of the over 500 persons who were interviewed had felt “unwelcome, excluded, discounted or disadvantaged because of his or her race, age, gender, national origin, religion, physical or mental disability, medical condition, pregnancy, marital status or sexual orientation.” Undoubtedly there is a vital need for proactive steps to be taken to reduce this number.
CONDUCT A SURVEY OF YOUR WORKFORCE
It’s a good idea to start off a Diversity and Inclusion program by conducting an anonymous and confidential survey of your workforce regarding their perceptions of the current culture as it regards diversity and bias. Some questions to consider could be:
• I feel comfortable expressing my true opinions in the workplace.
• I think my performance is fairly evaluated.
• I believe bias plays a role in our workplace.
• I would be interested in participating in bias-reduction initiatives.
• When you think of bias, what comes to mind?
• What sort of bias-reduction programs would you look forward to participating in?
Once the survey is completed, it is critical that words are put into action. Review the following steps closely for ways to accomplish this.
ENSURE HIRING PRACTICES ARE REPRESENTATIVE OF THE LOCATION
Many corporations will say that they are inclusive and support diversity, but a quick look around the lunchroom – not to mention the boardroom — frequently says the opposite. A truly inclusive and engaged employer will take appropriate steps to recruit and promote employees in line with the demographics of the city or region where they are based. Place ads for open positions in media sources frequented by the demographic you are trying to attract. Make sure that the recruitment team and hiring manager are aware of the Company’s initiatives and intent toward inclusive hiring practices. Remember that a lot of little steps can add up to big results.
EVALUATE VISUAL WORKPLACE ELEMENTS
What does your workplace look like? Be sure that photos, sculptures, wall displays, and paintings add to a sense of inclusivity and do not detract from it. Make sure that persons coming into the workplace don’t encounter visual elements which may make them feel uncomfortable or unwelcome.
TURN DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION INTO GENUINE CORPORATE VALUES
We’ve all heard the saying “Walk the Talk”, meaning to put action items behind words on a Mission Statement. Companies with a true commitment to eliminating bias and prejudice from their business operations will determine ways to change their organizational values to include real, measurable diversity and inclusion across all activities, and then measure the actual impact of this intentional behavior on the workforce at quarterly, semi-annual, and annual intervals.
EDUCATE YOUR TEAMMATES AND MANAGERS
For those unfamiliar with unconscious bias, it can be difficult to truly understand the concept. The goal should be to constructively direct each person’s decision-making processes toward a more mindful approach and less “going from the gut.” When people are made aware of their inherent biases in a non-threatening way, they will often make conscious effort to bypass the instinctive reactions and be more conscious of how they arrive at a decision. Another way to build bias-awareness is through “perspective-taking.” Put simply, perspective-taking involves putting yourself in another person’s shoes and focusing on how his or her experiences in a given situation might be different from your own.
BE OPEN TO HAVING UNCOMFORTABLE DISCUSSIONS
Employees often talk with other employees about current events, including demonstrations, protests, examples of government or police overreach, and similar topics. Allowing open dialog on these matters is a good idea, including formal team meetings to discuss matters of immediate impact to the organization. Moderated meetings can go a long way toward calming fears and anxiety in stressful situations.
INVESTIGATE COMPLAINTS AND TAKE DECISIVE ACTION
In the event a person comes forward with a concern or complaint of harassment or discriminatory behaviors, it is imperative that a detailed and thorough investigation be conducted promptly. Some organizations create cross-functional investigative teams to ensure that a broader spectrum of trained people is looking into these types of complaints, to offer an additional level of perspective. Businesses are realizing that other viewpoints can prove very beneficial in these situations. If the complaint is shown to be valid, do not be afraid to send a strong message by taking decisive action against the perpetrator proportional to the circumstances.
If you or any of your team have any questions about any of the information presented here, please contact HR Service Inc. at (801) 685-8400. We’d be happy to help!
Prepared by David Norton
Human Resources Business Consultant