How to tackle implicit bias: awareness, acceptance, action

How to tackle implicit bias: awareness, acceptance, action

Published on April 24, 2019

By Kimberly Vivas, People Specialist 

Diversity and inclusion is front and center: immigration and refugee crises, #MeToo, the implications of artificial intelligence, volatile politics. It can all be so overwhelming. Our understandable, self-preserving reaction — as individuals and as companies — can be to look away. At Beyond, we’ve chosen to face these challenges head on.

In April of 2018, Beyond launched a global training initiative to create an even more diverse and inclusive workplace. One of the key trainings we knew we needed to employ was an eyes-wide-open dive into the reality of implicit bias, but where to begin? Our starting point was this very human fact: We are often resistant to accept that we may have biases. In order to effect change and sidestep pitfalls, it’s essential that we break through this learning barrier. We have to recognize that everyone has biases and that you’re likely not at fault for having them, but you are responsible for your actions once you’re aware of them. So let’s begin there, with awareness as the catalyst for improvement, and accountability as the fuel for change.

More than 11 million pieces of information cross our minds each second, but our brains can only process about 40 pieces of information per second.* To make up for time, we only process about 1% of information with the remaining 99% going to our unconscious. There’s a lot going on behind the scenes and our unconscious mind influences our decision making.

For example, the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. You didn’t have any issues reading that, did you? That’s because the brain makes assumptions in order to process information faster. In the same way that your brain makes meaning of scrambled letters, your brain makes snap decisions about people. These kinds of immediate responses happen in the workplace, often with hiring. A common example is assuming someone is a good fit for the company because they went to the same college.

To heighten awareness of the ubiquity of implicit bias, we did The Trusted Ten Exercise.* Here’s how it works:

  1. List the 10 people you trust the most (excluding family)
  2. Categorize each person by gender, race/ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, education level, disabled (Y/N), marital status
  3. Analyze your results
  4. Discuss with team members

Here are some prompts to help guide reflection and discussion:

  • Did you have any expectations for what your Trusted Ten would look like?
  • How did your results differ from what you initially thought?
  • How do you feel about seeing the patterns between the different people that you trust?

The goal of the Trusted Ten is to give people a safe space to reflect on their own biases and create action plans for how to compensate for them in the workplace. It’s not about pointing fingers. One participant in our training said, “I honestly never really thought about this, but now that it’s on paper, I see it.” I was shocked by my own Trusted Ten. I showed a bias for people my age or younger.

Shock is a good sign. Awareness of biases, acceptance of uncomfortable truths, and action through compensation can create meaningful change — as individuals and companies.

To that end,  as an output from our implicit bias training, we created and recently launched antibias, a Google Chrome extension. antibias replaces LinkedIn profile photos with a unique pattern of geometric shapes, removing any potential bias introduced by photos when reviewing job applicants.

antibias encourages recruiters and hiring managers to assess candidates based purely on their credentials and achievements — not on superficial traits. It supports more accurate assessments of applicants, and helps diversify the upper portion of the hiring funnel. The tool recently received an honorable mention in the experimental category at Fast Company’s 2019 World Changing Ideas Awards.

That’s meaningful change in action, and we hope it inspires others to explore the possibilities of what can happen when we have the courage to collectively face ourselves — in the workplace and beyond.

Kimberly Vivas is a People Specialist in Beyond’s New York office. Responsible for the employee experience, she handles the behind the scenes nitty gritty (on/offboarding, recruiting, etc.) and the fun culture part (event planning, birthdays, etc.). Next up for Kim on the D&I front is partnering with iMentor on a mentorship program, facilitating #IamRemarkable trainings, and helping to lead our cross-office D&I Book Club. This month’s book is “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates!

*Popularized by Scott Horton