Pub. 2 2020 | Issue 11


Unintended Bias

By Chester Mosteller and Karen DiGioia

From birth, most of us are taught to be fair, to be kind, and to be compassionate. We must learn these things because, as newborns, we have only a sense of self. Our own wants and needs are our only concern. I’m hungry, feed me. I’m cranky, comfort me. I’m tired, put me to bed.

As we grow, most of us also learn that we are not the center of the universe. We learn to be kind, to share, and to care about the needs of others.

But that’s not all that we learn.

In those early years, we see things in a simple way. We have little perception of differences—skin color, age, race, culture, and gender. Recognizing and caring about these differences, developing prejudices and bias, just like fairness and compassion, are things that we learn as we grow up.

Our workplaces are filled with people – people who have learned to care about others but who also have deep-rooted learnings, biases, and sometimes even fears about differences. While these biases help our brains sort through an overwhelming amount of information each day, without our awareness, they can impact our actions and decisions and prevent us from creating a workplace that is diverse, respectful, and fully engaged.

As an employer, you have a responsibility to your employees and all stakeholders — customers, vendors, and our communities — to ensure fair, equitable, consistent, and compassionate treatment for all. But, unless you take intentional action, those early learnings will get in the way of your organization’s ability to create an inclusive and equitable work environment. They will also limit your ability to attract, hire, promote, motivate, and support the very best employees.

If you’re like me, you’re thinking: “We are an equal opportunity employer. We don’t discriminate against anyone.” It is important to recognize that “not discriminating” is not synonymous with actively ensuring equitable practices and an inclusive culture. Rare is the organization that intends to pay men more than women, promote whites more frequently than non-whites, or makes their LGBTQ employees feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. However, these unintended outcomes are often reality because, without our awareness, biases impact actions.

So, what can we do? We must actively work to ensure the compassionate and equitable treatment of employees, with a particular focus on those who are most often marginalized: women, people of color, LGBTQ individuals, older workers, and those with disabilities.

While this is truly a matter of company culture and should be addressed in a holistic manner, several key “first steps” can have a significant impact.

1. Take an honest look at your workforce and search for signs of the impact of bias.

  • Does the diversity of your workforce reflect the diversity of your community?
  • Does your leadership team look like the rest of the bank?
  • Do employees associate with other employees who aren’t “like them”?
  • Is your work environment welcoming to all?
  • Are employees provided with regular and safe opportunities to share their views?

If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” you have work to do to ensure that your bank is one that is equitable, inclusive, welcoming, and supportive for employees regardless of race, gender, religion, sexuality, disability, or age.

2. Look at training and development programs and ensure that you have a meaningful and effective program in place that focuses on recognizing bias and understanding its impact on others.

3. Conduct a comprehensive review of employment and compensation practices for fairness and equity.

  • Do pay and employment practices favor those in the “majority?”
  • Are hiring practices bringing you diverse applicants?
  • Do you have a bias-neutral resume screening process?
  • Do managers have appropriate training regarding the interview and hiring process to ensure the elimination of bias?
  • Are pay decisions made in a manner that ensures equity?
  • Do employee pay rates reflect a fair administration of compensation across the bank?

Yes, 2020 has been a challenging year. Dealing with COVID-19 while still delivering on strategic objectives has many leaders burned out. But that is no excuse. There are no tomorrows or back-burners for the issues of diversity, inclusion, fairness, and equity. Organizations that fail to respond will see an impact on their ability to recruit and retain, on organizational performance, and on their brand and perception in the marketplace. Don’t underestimate the importance of taking positive action. Your stakeholders — employees, customers, communities, and vendors—are all depending on you to take appropriate action. The result will be a true win-win-win for all.

Chester Mosteller is the founder and President of Mosteller & Associates.

Karen DiGioia joined Mosteller & Associates in 2005. She specializes in Compensation and Design and Benchmarking Organizational Development. Find out more: 610-779-3870

Mosteller & Associates, PACB Associate Member

This story appears in Issue 11 2020 of the Hometown Banker Magazine.

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