As the #metoo movement ushers in a new era of workplace laws (including a sweeping set of revisions to New York’s this October), the public is becoming more aware of the ways in which harassment can often linger in plain sight. For learning providers like us, it’s clear that part of our duty needs to be supporting a more inclusive workplace for women. This is true for everything in our library, from the obvious topics like sexual harassment prevention to less obvious ones like best practices for hiring and leadership.
On May 3, I joined our content partner Cornerstone OnDemand and fellow learning provider CyberU in a discussion of corporate diversity, with a focus on gender. Throughout the conversation, we returned frequently to the role played by unconscious bias in silently disadvantaging women across a range of different scenarios. Our discussion spotlighted four areas of the workplace where unconscious bias is especially prevalent–and where content can promote a more enlightened, inclusive culture. These areas were Performance Management, Learning, Hiring, and Compensation.
When managers give their teams reviews and identify individuals with high potential, unconscious bias can often sway their thinking and implicitly direct their attentions to men. This is especially true when identifying employees for leadership roles. The stereotypical qualities of leaders are often coded as masculine, meaning we’re more likely to unconsciously overlook women for leadership roles.
The notion of “inherent” leadership traits is likely to reflect our biases and to privilege those whose demographics resemble our usual models for leaders in daily life. As managers think through the potential of their employees, our lessons push them to recognize latent biases that influence their thinking. By interrogating some of these assumptions about leadership, you’re less likely to overlook standout performers and a lopsided leadership pipeline (not to mention unfair promotion practices).
To develop a culture of meaningful learning, managers must create opportunities for employees to stretch themselves, even if that means occasionally failing or having to ask for help. In the panel, we discussed the tendency of female employees to underestimate their capabilities compared to male employees of equal talent, and we talked through approaches that managers can use to cultivate comfort with failure and vulnerability on their teams. As part of this, we discussed the importance of each team member, whether male or female, being empowered to admit when they don’t understand something, disagree with another member’s viewpoint, need help in a given area, or have a new approach they’d like to run with. Cultivating this level of honesty makes for a more innovative, higher-functioning team culture where all employees value vulnerability and continuous personal improvement.
We’ve recently released a set of lessons that help managers understand the elements of smart teams and foster those characteristics on their own teams. The focus is on developing “psychological safety” for your team members and giving them encouragement to take risks in order to grow and learn. As we discuss in these lessons, teams that cultivate psychological safety are more innovative, more able to adapt to external change, and stronger at group problem-solving.
Think about the hiring and interviewing process at your organization. Are you applying consistent standards when you evaluate candidates? Do your job postings contain language that might inadvertently drive certain candidates away or make them feel unqualified? At Grovo, we’ve developed content offerings about hiring discrimination and behavior-based interviewing that help hiring managers get ahead of potential bias in hiring. These lessons contain insights for developing a more inclusive culture for women in particular, starting at their very first encounter with your culture.
Think about the postings we routinely see on job boards, especially in the tech world. Words like “aggressive” or funny phrases like “operations ninja” or “work hard play hard” can implicitly signal an environment that’s less welcoming to women. By thoroughly reviewing your outward facing language and ensuring it’s neutral, you’re making the first step to ensure a diverse pipeline that isn’t biased toward any one group in particular.
With women still earning only 80% of the salary men earn in 2018, compensation is one of the most clear-cut areas where unconscious bias continues to impact the workplace. That’s one reason why states and locales across the country, including the state of California and New York City, now prohibit employers from questioning job applicants about their salary history–an aspect of the hiring process that’s been shown to perpetuate gender-based wage gaps over the course of a woman’s career.
As one step in developing more equal pay practices, executives and decision-makers should be familiar with their unconscious biases in relation to gender as they review their compensation practices internally. Even if wage inequality reflects more men in higher-level positions, this is still worth your attention. (As discussed earlier, it’s possible that women are being passed over for leadership roles.) Grovo’s lessons on hiring discrimination address pay policies and are helpful to understand the considerations you should have when settling on a salary.
Take the next step
Working towards and reaching gender parity for compensation, recruiting, and performance evaluations is a step in the right direction. But, addressing unconscious bias, which is a form of discrimination in the workplace that impacts women, is a continuous pursuit. As the workplace evolves, we need to continuously examine our unconscious biases and reflect on how they impact our work. Take the next step with your learning and development by taking our unconscious bias lessons.