April 22, 2019

Implicit Bias: Keeping Personal Assumptions out of Important Employment Decisions.


Implicit Bias is a hot topic these days, and one that could easily creep into the fabric of your company culture, whether you are aware of it or not (and probably not, hence the descriptor “implicit”).

Most of us are aware of the many benefits that inclusion and diversity can bring to the workplace. Still, most of us also have internal hang-ups that go unaddressed because, frankly, we all tend to perceive ourselves as more open-minded than we actually are.

Not only can such a mindset limit the growth of your company but, worse, it can put you at risk of facing discrimination claims as a result of subtle actions that you may not have even recognized simply because you failed to check your own implicit biases at the door.

What, exactly, is implicit bias?

Implicit bias is the concept that all of us – through our own cultural programming, the environment, influence from media and entertainment we watch, and the communities we surround ourselves with – most likely have some form of subtle bias. This can filter into many of your operating processes, including hiring, coaching employees, and even handling employee investigations.

How do we overcome our biases?

First, assess yourself.

Consider the modern explosion of the #metoo movement: do you find yourself getting angry when new accusations are made against alleged aggressors because you believe that our society has become far too sensitive? Or do you tend to immediately side with the accusers, feeling appalled and drawn to admonish the alleged perpetrators for their purported actions?

Whichever way you lean on the subject, it is indicative of a bias. Either way, you’re making assumptions based on limited information – assumptions which are fueled by your personal beliefs and experiences.  

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How could implicit bias affect an employee investigation?

Picture this: an employee approaches you and informs you that one of her coworkers said something that could be construed as sexual harassment. If you are generally of the opinion that employees are too sensitive and quick to make a big deal out of nothing these days, do you think you could conduct a fair and adequate employee investigation without first checking your bias at the door?

Not likely. And if the same bias leads you to terminate that employee because you felt she raised a bogus claim, you should expect a retaliation lawsuit to come your way soon thereafter.

Implicit Bias can also show itself in the hiring process.

I’ll give you an example of my own.

As the youngest of three children, I grew up with two siblings who were 13 and 16 years my senior, as well as parents that were older than those of most of my peers. Accustomed to conversing with an older generation, I grew up primarily talking to and befriending adults for most of my childhood.

When it came time for me to put my hiring hat on and interview candidates for a position, though I was just 24, I found myself naturally gravitating toward candidates much older than me. I was cognizant enough to listen to all of the applicants’ responses to my interview questions to determine if they were a good fit for the position, but I found myself naturally more comfortable with candidates closer in age to my older siblings, or even my parents.

I knew that age was a protected class and that it could not be factored into my decision-making, but recognizing that still didn’t remove my bias. After more experience interviewing and eventually giving presentations specifically on Implicit Bias (and taking my own self-assessment), I realized I was more inclined to hire for comfort and fit. This meant asking positive, almost leading questions to those candidates in older demographics and letting our “good rapport” shield me from truly hearing the answers those candidates were giving.

Click to download our free guide, "Making Working Interviews Work."

Cultural Fit

It is typical for employers to look for a good “cultural fit” during the hiring processes. But here at CEDR, HR Director Michele Oliver loves to say that, instead of looking for a good “cultural fit,” she wants to find candidates that are a “cultural add.”

Continue to think about ways in which you might be letting your implicit biases affect the administration of your business and your relationships with your employees. If you are interested in finding additional information on the topic, you can take this Implicit Bias test designed by the folks at Harvard.

There are also numerous resources available online that provide great suggestions for deconditioning our hardwired biases – suggestions that include meditating or seeking out media that presents individuals toward whom you might have a subtle bias in a more favorable light.

The biggest takeaway here: fairness and consistency are qualities that will keep you and your practice safe from legal risk. A third-party HR specialist can provide objective insight on any HR situation, which can help you avoid leaning on your implicit biases when making important business decisions. Since a third-party won’t be in the middle of your employee drama, they can offer a broader perspective on what’s going on, and that can help you to make more informed decisions that will be better for your business in the long run.

You can always rely on the Solution Center advisors at CEDR to give you a thorough risk analysis when troubleshooting difficult scenarios, and to help you make sure that you choose a reasoned and well-thought-out approach.

Challenge yourself. Think outside of the box and, with a little work, you can create, not just the team of your dreams, but one that exceeds the limits of your wildest imagination!

This post was authored by CEDR Solution Center Advisor Tiana Starke.

Looking for help keeping your practice in compliance with the Department of Labor? Check out the FREE CEDR Guide to Employee Classification and Wage Compliance.

Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature and is not intended to provide legal advice or replace individual guidance about a specific issue with an attorney or HR expert. The information on this page is general human resources guidance that is believed to be current as of the date of publication. Note that CEDR is not a law firm, and as the law is always changing, you should consult with a qualified attorney or HR expert who is familiar with all of the facts of your situation before making a decision about any human resources or employment law matter.

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Please note: CEDR Solutions specializes in providing expert HR support to owners and operators of independently owned medical and dental practices.