Cos look to weed out ‘unconscious biases’
Mumbai: HP recently launched a video of father-daughter duo reading out some basic interview tips available online for women candidates. Stumped at hearing some of these tips found online — Don’t wear too much makeup. Don’t be aggressive. Don’t be too chatty. Cover your grey hair — both groups agreed these were highly biased against women and were specifically designed for women candidates even though men, too, could be “chatty”, “aggressive” and “greying”. Fathers were shown to be supportive of their daughters to be as unique as possible for an interview and focus instead on brushing up on skills required for the job.
Through the video, HP conveyed its intent of hiring, with talent being the only criteria. Unconscious biases of different kinds affect workplace culture. When such biases impact hiring decisions, it hits productivity as well. Several companies are bringing about changes to fight unconscious biases, which are attitudes reinforced by our environment and experiences. Globally, HP is training all hiring managers to reduce unconscious biases. JWT, as reported by TOI in May this year, has ‘blind recruitments’ to fight unconscious biases. The Taj Group (Indian Hotels Company) has come up with a programme called ‘Reflections’ to tackle unconscious biases at the workplace.
P V Ramana Murthy, senior VP and global head (HR) at the Indian Hotels Company, said, “Every human being has some kind of biases. We are thinking of programmes on how to deal with unconscious biases. ‘Reflections’ is one initiative to make people reflect upon themselves. It’s a self-learning process that encourages people to come up with their own understanding of biases. We want to make ‘Reflections’ a part of every training programme for learning and development (L&D). So, we are integrating it as part of various L&D programmes for senior leadership or for those working at the shop-floor. By integrating the programme with other programmes, we want to make people reflect about unconscious biases so that they have more self-awareness about common biases. We want our managers and senior leaders to walk the talk on this. If we want to work together as teams, it’s not good to have biases.”
‘Reflections’ covers all senior leaders. Besides, there is a programme called ‘Beyond 100%’ that is being cascaded down the organisation, which enables people at all levels to reflect and be more self-aware.”If you look at the way the human mind is composed, it tends to attract the negative pretty quickly. three-fourths of our brain gets attracted to negative aspects. The idea is to create the right environment in which dealing with these individual issues becomes much easier. Douglas McGregor’s ‘Hot-stove rule’ tells us about the consistency of a hot stove in burning your hand when touched. Similar is the case with culture. If the work environment is negative, even smaller issues can go out of hand. We deal with individual matters on a case-to-case basis. While we treat our employees with respect and dignity and create the right environment, we have a zero tolerance policy for wrong doings,” says Murthy.
Biases are built in a person’s psyche during childhood and the manner of upbringing. Prarrthona Pal Chowdhury, country manager (Indian sub-continent), Remy Cointreau, says she grew up in a home where drinking liquor was generally considered bad. But she went on to join a liquor company. “Every individual’s evolution is personal. As we grow up, we learn and develop a new idea of what’s right and wrong. When it comes to personal biases, a company can never tell what’s right and wrong at the workplace. It’s not about the workplace, every individual decides what’s right or wrong in his/her head,” says Chowdhury.
Chowdhury believes it’s not easy to deal with stereotypes and weed out unconscious biases. “A company can never prove it to anybody that he/she is gender-biased. People at times use biases as reasons to blame their lack of success at work. I have personally not faced such biases. Even if I have, may be I did not realise it. There’s reverse gender bias as well. Many organisations are having these kind of conversations where they also talk to men on how they should handle it,” says Chowdhury.
Experts believe the way out is to weed it out of people’s subconscious mind. Achal Khanna, CEO, SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) India, said, “To weed out the subconscious bias, the first and foremost thing companies can do is to bring them to everyone’s consciousness. Sharing the information about this tendency and its impact on others is critical. Besides, having a leadership team and workforce from diverse backgrounds could help overcome challenges arising from subconscious bias. Training employees to cultivate the inclusion mindset would help control the influence of bias.”