Bias, a preconceived notion that can go for or against individuals. It exists in almost every industry but is often taboo. So, in the fifth episode of the ATT webinar – Eradicating Bias: Identify & Act, we discussed how to identify bias and steps to reduce it.
The ATT monthly webinar aims to bring the HR community closer, raise important topics, exchange ideas and mutually grow. It is a live webinar for people to join in and interact with the panellists.
For this session, Prashant Sharma, Manager – Marketing at Info Edge India Ltd, connected with two HR leaders:
- Harini Sreenivasan – Business Transformation Evangelist and Partner at Semcostyle Institute India
- Atma Godara – Manager, Production HR at Netflix
In this conversation, the guests shared insights on bias identification, how management can play a role in eradicating bias and best practices.
Q: What has been one personal positive and one professional positive for you since the pandemic?
Harini: I’ll take the professional positive first. What always intrigued me in the olden days is why some businesses do not think of remote or hybrid working? But suddenly, when the pandemic happened, everybody made it possible overnight. When I went back and asked these questions to the same people, how did you make it happen? They said we trust our people will work from wherever they are. So I think the best positive that pandemic gave us in the professional world is that trust exists. It was somewhere dormant.
Personally, I differentiated between my needs and my wants. So I’m on my journey towards minimalism in whatever way I can.
Atma: The line is blurred between the professional and the personal side. Professional positive for me was working from anywhere. But, on the other hand, I am not very fond of working in a closed space with air conditioners.
Personal positive is that learning has become very accessible. I attended many sessions online through Zoom or Hangout. The best part is we don’t have to book a hall or set up all the logistics for a conversation.
Q: What’s the most problematic bias within the Indian ecosystem?
Harini: Perception or stereotyping is a common bias. For example, I am currently mentoring many Armed forces veterans to transition from uniform to the corporate world. The moment their resume has the Armed forces in it, there is a perception that they will make excellent Security or Admin Chiefs. People go by the Army rank and do not see their core domain in the Armed forces. Such stereotyping or any perceptions related to gender and age become beliefs over time. Later beliefs become biases.
“The moment their resume has the Armed forces in it, there is a perception that they will make excellent Security or Admin Chiefs.”
Atma: If I have to narrow it down to the corporate, confirmation bias is very harmful. It starts with the hiring and affects the entire employee lifecycle management. We tend to seek out information that supports something we already believe.
Q: How do you identify one is biased in the approach? Also, what role does psychometric testing have in bias eradication?
Harini: I’ve been an observer of people and what I noticed is that when no questions are asked when someone is doing something, or you’re not even challenging what that person says or consistently ignoring someone’s red flags. These are all indicators of bias. You don’t need a complicated tool to test it. You can do that by yourself in introspection.
Coming to psychometric tools, I have a contrarian view of their usage. They were designed for a purpose. Psychometric tools help to understand behavioural types. When we do the psychometric test for a team, team members can access each other’s reports.
“(…)when no questions are asked when someone is doing something, or you’re not even challenging what that person says or consistently ignoring someone’s red flags.”
Then, people develop notions based on the reports. Notions like I am similar to this team member, this team member is a slow decision-maker. That’s where even more bias starts. So I don’t recommend using psychometric tools to be indicators of biases. Observation of behaviour is the best tool.
Q. How can we be conscious of gender stereotypes in the workplace?
Atma: We carry bias from our homes or society to work. For example, we say women are more benign, or women are more creative. We also think that men are more suitable for a client-facing role or a sales job. And women will probably suit for a desk job. So understanding and addressing this thing is very important, and then we can take those small steps. One essential thing which we should stop doing is asking women if they are married or planning a child during hiring.
“One basic thing which we should stop doing is asking women if they are married or planning a child during hiring.”
Q. How do you act against someone who has discriminatory behaviour?
Atma: The first thing we need to do here is sensitisation. How do we sensitise? Let employees talk about the issues they face because of gender or other stereotypes. Let less privileged ones speak about the struggle they face and open up with their colleagues. When people understand their colleague’s struggles, they will become more sensitive.
Q. Can observation be a perception of anybody’s behaviour?
Harini: It’s a great question, and it reiterates the point I was making. As an observer, I also can have perceptions. So, I might not notice if someone is biased. That’s precisely why I said consistent behaviour. If I notice somebody nine out of ten times is ignoring flaws or being extremely critical. Then it could be a bias.
Q: What do you think about the role of the leadership in handling biases?
Atma: For top management, I think first and foremost is accepting that we all are biased somewhere. Historically, we have not been fair to women or certain castes. We also don’t address people who never spoke English in their undergrad /postgrad and are now struggling. So talk about all these issues in the town hall. Communication is the key that should come from the top end.
Harini: I think leading by example is the best way to communicate. We can acknowledge our own biases and work on them consciously. It is one of the best ways to convey down the line.
Q. There is always a bias between performers and non-performers in the organisation. How do we motivate non-performers to perform with no bias in treating them?
Harini: Another lovely question. The subject of performance management is very close to my heart. Recency bias is the culprit when it comes to bias to performance management. We start labelling people once they have performed well or poorly. As one of the practices for countering this bias in an organisation, I hid historical ratings during normalisation.
“Recency bias is the culprit when it comes to bias to performance management. We start labelling people once they have performed well or poorly.”
Secondly, a manager can also tell the team that you are my accountability partner. So, if you see me getting biased, then point it to me.
Q. What is one best practice you recommend for eradicating bias?
Atma: We need to sensitise people and create a safe space to talk about issues and biases in the long term. Also, we can hide names in the initial screening during hiring for the short term to avoid bias.
Harini: I suggest two best practices. The first one is to hide all the names during performance management. Another best practice is to keep policies neutral and straightforward as much as possible. For example, even your attendance policy should be as neutral as possible. The moment you start putting a particular time in and time out, there is always a section of people who might find it challenging to make it. Then arises a perception leading to bias.