Employers’ hidden biases cause bottom line to suffer: Report

Business leaders maybe unconsciously stifling diversity

Many business leaders strive to build diverse teams that will provide a competitive advantage to their organization. But many employers may still fall prey to unconscious preferences or biases that stifle diversity, according to a new report by RBC and Ernst & Young.

Unconscious biases can range from obvious physical characteristics like race, gender, ethnicity or age, to more subtle characteristics like personality or experiences. Biases can also refer to favouring one’s own family, community or those with similar characteristics or experiences.

Learning to recognize and manage bias is critical for employers to continue to promote diversity in the workplace.

"We believe it'simportant for us to explore this complex and sometimes sensitive topic," said Zabeen Hirji, chief human resources officer at RBC.

"While many companies have made great strides in advancing diversity and inclusion in the workplace, there has been a lag in progress in some areas, such as the advancement of women and minorities in leadership roles and boardrooms. Unconscious biases should be considered as a possible underlying reason for this."

In the workplace, problems can occur when individuals unconsciously allow their biases — whether it’s an aversion to or preference for a particular group — affect their decision-making, the report said. These biases can affect everything from hiring and promotion to the level of openness to new ideas and solutions.

"As a leader, it's important to turn around and see who's following you," said Fiona Macfarlane, chief inclusiveness officer and managing partner at Ernst & Young British Columbia.

"Is it your intent tohave the people following you all look and behave just like you? That is simply not representative of our highly diverse society."

There are several ways employers can become aware of and overcome unconscious biases, found the report, including asking themselves the following questions:

•Who do I take to important client or cross-team meetings?

•Who do I encourage to lead or speak out at meetings? Am I creating opportunities for those less extroverted to demonstrate their capabilities equally to clients or other colleagues?

• Do I typically hire the same type of person, or personality type?

•When I say a candidate is not the right "fit", what do I mean?

Identifying and overcoming unconscious bias can help employers improve relationships with clients, manage multiple perspectives and deliver stronger bottom-line results.

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