Why Supervisors Need to Address Bias in the Workplace

Why Supervisors Need to Address Bias in the Workplace

According to Wikipedia, bias is "disproportionate weight in favor of or against one thing, an idea, usually in a way that is close-minded, prejudicial, or unfair." 

Most people would like to believe they aren't biased and that they treat everyone equally. However, every one of us has "unconscious biases." An unconscious bias is a learned assumption or belief; therefore, individuals often believe that the bias is a fact. We may not realize it, but these unconscious biases impact how we think, feel, and act. While studies have shown that progress is being made in the workplace around diversity and inclusion, there is still plenty of work to do.  Here are three things supervisors can do to reduce bias in the workplace: 


1. Learn to recognize bias

The first and most important tip about reducing workplace bias is to recognize and understand it. Only then will you be able to skillfully and efficiently deal with the issue. Supervisors must be aware of any signs of bias to address potential problems. A person's unconscious bias can form based on any of the following: gender, age, affinity, name, etc. 

Is there anyone in your workplace who makes assumptions about another employee's qualifications simply due to background or appearance? Perhaps you have seen someone treating people differently for no apparent reason. Have you witnessed anyone being left out of social events or conversations? Maybe you have overheard another employee referencing someone's age and the fact that they can or can't do something because of their age. These are all very common signs of unconscious bias in the workplace. Supervisors must send a clear message that biases and prejudices (conscious or unconscious) are not acceptable. If you see any of these signs, you must address them immediately. Allowing bias in the workplace is toxic. If tolerated, bias will have a negative impact on employees and their work. It can lead to unfair policies, negative treatment, or missed career advancement opportunities. However, when supervisors identify bias in the workplace and nip it in the bud, they can create a safe and respectful workplace that creates a culture of inclusion.  


2. Learn how to resolve bias

Once you can identify bias in the workplace, how will you handle it? Like most change initiatives, it must start at the very top of the organization and work its way through all departments. Leaders must first be champions of diversity and inclusion if they want to be role models and set the stage for positive change. Supervisors also need to ensure that all employees understand that it's natural to have some unconscious biases. Ultimately, the goal is to work toward eliminating bias in the workplace. 

Asking for employee feedback is one simple way to help resolve workplace bias. Make it clear that you want honest feedback and that it can be anonymous! Doing this will help you better understand your employees' feelings. While it is important to gather this information, it's more important to act on it if needed. A few other ideas to help supervisors identify and resolve workplace bias might include:

  • Creating an open-door policy
  • Walking the talk
  • Being transparent during the hiring process

If employees feel that you genuinely care and will take steps to resolve workplace bias, they will feel more comfortable alerting you to any possible signs of bias. They will also be more likely to follow your lead and guidance.   


3. Incorporate diversity & inclusion training

Supervisors know it's crucial to resolve any workplace bias promptly. Reinforcing learning around bias in the workplace will only make your culture stronger. By implementing diversity and inclusion training for your workforce, you will reiterate its importance to the company. Depending on your organization's work schedule, there could be several ways to facilitate training (e.g., In-Person, Virtual, Online). It's important to understand what works best with your employees so that everyone feels valued and included. Some of the benefits of diversity and inclusion training include:

  • Promoting long-term value creation
  • Driving productivity
  • Hiring more diverse and talented employees

Your workplace must be free of bias. With the proper protocols, procedures, and training in place, this is achievable. Diversity and inclusion in the workplace create a healthy environment where people of different backgrounds, experiences, and skills can work together. Promote diversity within your organization and build a nurturing and inclusive culture. According to McKinsey, "Diverse companies are 35% more likely to deliver above-average profit margins, as well as delivering more long-term value creation." Eliminating biases in the workplace not only contributes to a healthy and nurturing work environment but also has the potential for a substantial increase in productivity for your organization. 


AEU LEAD is a division of The American Underwriters, Inc. dedicated to the leadership development needs of mid and front-line managers. 

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