EEOC conference opens with reality check: Bias is unavoidable
- Bias isn't just something that can be avoided — it's a reality of everyday life, author Lenora Billings-Harris told attendees Tuesday at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's 21st annual EXCEL Training Conference.
- "You cannot not have bias to get through the day," Billings-Harris said. Those in charge of diversity and inclusion practices need to help their worker populations move past the fear that comes with speaking about bias and its role in perpetuating harmful stereotypes and inequality. Otherwise, "We end up being a culture of silence, and we talk to the same people and only get the same answer."
- Without focusing too much on key metrics, HR and people managers should focus on whether their organization's leaders are hiring the best team, Billings-Harris said. "That's what great coaches do and that's what great managers do," she said, "because inclusion is all about who gets to play."
HR is constantly tasked with building and maintaining organizational culture, but the task itself has grown to include a complex number of responsibilities at the risk of reducing "culture" to ambiguity. But perhaps culture is more of an idea than a concrete, day-to-day task — more you know it when you see it.
A more productive way to think about organizational culture may be to consider the everyday activities and occurrences that take place at work. This is where discussions around diversity and inclusion fit; are managers making it a point to promote civility in their daily interactions with front-line staff? Are your executives emphasizing both cultural wins and areas of improvement in all-hands communications? Does your HR department promote employee resource groups and opportunities for employees of different backgrounds to get to know one another on a human level? Each of these are opportunities for reflection.
Diversity is often thought of as a recruiting function, but truly diverse organizations don't just stop at affirmative action. "Inclusion is broader than that," Billings-Harris said Tuesday. Once protected classes of employees are hired, allies and sponsors can keep moving the conversation forward. And no D&I policy is without its blind spots. Experts suggest considering external voices that can help, just as Starbucks did with its recent cultural overhaul.
Even in recruiting, HR should be looking not for a cultural fit — which might be code for bias — but instead for those who aren't afraid to speak out in favor of improvements, Adam Grant, professor at the Wharton School of Business, told attendees at the 2018 Society of Human Resource Management annual conference. Grant implored HR to seek out "disagreeable givers": those who challenge the status quo without shouting down different ways of thinking.
Billings-Harris showed EXCEL attendees her own process for dealing with bias, known as B-BASIC. The components are:
- B: Breathe.
- B: Be the other.
- A: Ask for feedback.
- S: Suspend judgment.
- I: Invite others.
- C: Check your ego at the door.
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