Understanding Bias in HR
Human beings are predisposed to categorize people unfairly.
HR actions are necessary to ensure equity.
Values Differences is defined as: Recognizing the value that different perspectives and cultures bring to an organization.
Somebody who is skilled in valuing differences:
Seeks to understand different perspectives and cultures.
Contributes to a work climate where differences are valued and supported.
Applies others’ diverse experiences, styles, backgrounds, and perspectives to get results.
Is sensitive to cultural norms, expectations, and ways of communicating.
We all have biases. It’s a part of our human nature. Understanding bias is one of the keys to ensuring that we don't unfairly categorize groups of people, or hurt our diversity efforts.
When you think about the history of homo sapiens, bias makes logical sense. Humans were predisposed to be cautious of new things. One wrong move could result in death or illness. Being biased about other tribes of homo sapiens was actually an evolutionary trait that allowed for species survival. However, in 2020, this is more detrimental to society than it is beneficial to survival, so we have to be made aware of bias and actively work to eliminate it in our work.
One area of unconscious bias is the fundamental attribution error. Fundamental attribution error is the tendency for people to overemphasize positional or personality based explanations for behavior observed in others, while under emphasizing situational explanations. In other words, people have a bias to assume that a person's actions depend on what kind of person that is rather than on the societal and environmental forces that influence the person.
An example of the fundamental attribution error would be to assume that all people from a certain generation have the same level of work ethic. For instance, if somebody was born before 1980, you may assume they are hard workers because of the age they grew up in. Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Next time somebody uses the term "Millennial" in a derogatory way, you will realize this is a prime example of this form of bias.
Another example of bias is something called the “halo effect”, the halo effect in simple terms, is the fact that we tend to like people who are like us. When we meet new people who share similar backgrounds, look similar to us, and think similarly to us. We tend to want to be around them, and we tend to like them more. While this is a totally normal human behavior, in organizations, it can be detrimental and hurt an organization's ability to attain their goals.
An example of the “Halo effect” would be if you are interviewing somebody for a job, and they started their career at the same company you did. You may assume that they have similar traits to you. You are likely to treat that candidate more fairly than somebody else, if you aren’t aware of the potential bias. If you aren't actively aware of this bias, you will likely make poor hiring decisions.
One of the biggest missteps I see in HR is hiring somebody for "Culture fit". This never made sense to me. Some company cultures are great, and hiring people that "fit" into that culture seems to make sense. However, if you hire for "fit", you are going to be hiring more of the same types of people. Long term, this will inhibit innovation, develop an extremely homogenous culture, and will hurt any diversity efforts you may have. I prefer to hire a "Culture Builder". This is somebody who will bring something different and helpful into a culture.
We all have implicit biases which affect the way we live and work in the world. Identifying how these biases may negatively affect workers and the bottom line is pivotal in the development of workplace equality. Implicit bias often runs counter to people's conscious, expressed beliefs.
Here is a video from psychologist Daniel Kelly describing this in more detail: https://youtu.be/OoBvzI-YZf4
Traditional HR Sucks at Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
HR's role in many organizations is to protect the business from lawsuits and controversy. This approach leads to many inequities in the workplace, and will ultimately hurt a company culture. Operating from a mindset of fear will never work, and it's also absolutely no fun! If all you worry about is getting a lawsuit or EEOC claim, you can't focus on making your organization a great place to work.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is hard. It's a journey that will never end. However, New School HR Practitioners can make small, pragmatic changes in their organization to move them forward.
Let's start by understanding the basics:
Definition of Diversity
Let's start by defining diversity. Diversity is defined as a state of being, diverse or a variety of things a range of different things in the context of our organizations. Diversity can be defined in many different ways. There's diversity of race, diversity of gender, diversity of thought, diversity of national origin, and the list goes on and on. I think about diversity as a state of being. Diversity is not an action you can take. Think of diversity as a noun. When an organization talks about their “Diversity Strategy”, many times, this takes the shape of counting diverse qualities within their company, and setting quotas on where they would like to be.
Definition of Inclusion:
Inclusion is the action or state of including or being included within a group or structure. This is important because all of our organizations have an opportunity to impact diversity, but the things that we do to impact diversity, by definition, are inclusive actions. Inclusion is a verb. It is something you can DO to impact diversity and equity within an organization. In an organization, focusing on an inclusion strategy will shift a focus away from counting your total number of diverse employees towards actions that can make people feel a part of the group.
Here’s an example: If you have a Black member of your board of directors, by definition, you have diversity on your board. This is admirable, as board diversity is typically very lacking. However, if that individual does not feel that they are a part of the group, or their opinions, beliefs, and perspectives are not valued, diversity will not support your organizational goals. In order for that person to be effective in their role, an inclusive environment is critical.
Definition of Equity:
Equity is a little bit different but equally important as diversity and inclusion. Equity is defined as the quality of being fair and impartial and in the context of diversity within our organizations, equity is extremely critical to ensure that your employees and team members are being given the same opportunities as others. Think of this as all employees starting from the same place as everybody else. As we look at each individual's situation, we all come from different places and have different levels of fairness in life. This matters to an organization because if you have an organization that is non-equitable, you will struggle. Your culture will not feel inclusive, and diversity will typically be poor.
Here is a video to describe how equity works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJAgPF5FNTQ
Why do these terms matter to an organization?
As you think about your teams, you should also be thinking about your customers. A good rule to think about is that your diversity should mirror the diversity in your community. In the same context, you should also aspire to mirror your customers. If you have a team that can mirror the wants, needs, and experiences of your customers, they will inherently provide better products and services. This isn’t just about responding to recent political and social unrest. This is a business imperative. In the next section, we will highlight multiple business cases that demonstrate the imperative.
What is the business case?
Some people hate that you need a "Business Case" to articulate the importance of DE&I initiatives. The truth is that this is the language of business, and HR needs to be able to speak in this language to articulate why we need to take steps in this area. If we can define value, cost, and action steps, we will secure funding and budgets to take action. This is critical for success!
We will start by looking at the statistical business case for diversity, inclusion, and equity:
If we take a look at businesses around the world, there's clear statistical research that shows that inclusion, equity and diversity drive results within organizations.
Here are some research results:
Let’s take a look at generational diversity.
In addition to the statistical business case, there is also a human business case to be made. Not only is this good for business, but it's also just the right thing to do.
In the organizations where diversity has been a focus, you will see higher engagement levels. You can look at teamwork levels you can see how people are collaborating. You can see how communication flows within an organization. If an organization has high levels of inclusion, equity, and diversity, it fosters organizational trust. This creates a culture who works well together, and who ultimately drives better business results. It's also just a better place to work.
If you can ensure you support and foster the necessary processes to change organizational structures to support diversity, inclusion, and equity, you will find success. However, this is not easy. Organizations are hard to change. Culture change takes years, and we have been operating with processes and structures that have been in place for decades. In order to foster the necessary change, it starts with leadership, and incremental progress.
Start by taking a first step: Assess your organization and start to define a business case.
So just this past week, the Wells Fargo CEO, Charles Scharf, apologized to employees after he blamed the bank's lack of diversity on a, "very limited pool of black talent to recruit from." He made the original comment during a zoom meeting with employees in the summer. And then again, in a memo where the company announced a set of initiatives to increase diversity following protests across the country.
If you're an HR professional, and you've heard that statement, your first reaction should be horror. However, if I'm being perfectly honest, my reaction was that this sounds familiar. I've heard these types of comments before.
We have to think more broadly in the context of our organization as it relates to diversity hiring. As opposed to looking at the talent pool as a limited number of applicants to fill an opening, your approach should simply be to look at the talent pool that you're drawing from, and ensure that it is large enough, as opposed to focusing on how limited it is.
If you have any leaders in your organization who have made comments similar to this, the first thing you should do is challenge those comments. But the underlying issue is, these individuals may not be incorrect if they are not being presented with enough diverse, talented individuals, whether that's diversity of race, diversity of thought, diversity of gender diversity of sexual orientation, they are not going to diversify their staff.
It's HR's job to be the gatekeeper, to ensure that we are diversifying our talent pool, that our recruiting processes, and our retention processes support diversity. We need to broaden the approach as opposed to blaming leaders who are not getting those applicants in their inbox.
I look at these statements as a HR issue. The CEO should not have made the statements. He issued a what I would consider half hearted apology. But he should have had a plethora of diverse candidates to choose from, if HR did their job. His apology was: "I apologize for making an insensitive comment reflecting my own unconscious bias. There are many talented individuals working at Wells Fargo and throughout the financial services industry and I never meant to imply otherwise."
My approach, though, if you're in human resources is let's fix it. So how do I expand my talent pool? The first thing you have to look at is where's my funnel? Where's my funnel of applicants coming from? Is it coming from the same two or three schools that I've always recruited from? Because it's easy to do that? Most likely the answer there is yes. Take an active approach and ensure that you are recruiting from areas that are diverse. It's as simple as that.
I learned a very important lesson a few years back. I was talking to somebody in my community, and I was having a similar conversation about not being able to find good talent. And she looked at me and she said, there's really only two reasons that you're not getting good talent. The first one is, people don't know about you. So you're not advertising in the right spot. The number two reason is you have a bad reputation.
So the other area we need to focus on is community reputation. If you are struggling to find diverse talent within your pipeline, maybe you have a reputation issue. Take a look at the turnover trends within your staff. Take a look at how you onboard and retain and support new employees. Take a look at your training. Do you support your leaders approach towards inclusivity within the workplace? If the answer to any of those things are no, you probably don't have a great reputation and you're not going to get high qualified diversified talent.
So two simple steps:
1. Expand your approach to where you are drawing your applicants from for your positions.
2. Take a look at your reputation. Take a look at your internal processes ensure that your employee experience is reflective of what you would want if you wanted to work at an inclusive workplace.
There is a significant amount of "diverse talent" in the world. You just have to be able to reach out and find it by changing processes.
Let's not give leaders this excuse any longer.
HR in the TImes of COVID
In the Rebel Human Resources Podcast Episode 4, we discussed how HR has changed due to COVID, and the countermeasures HR is deploying to adapt.
One of the biggest hurdles our employees have faced is how to balance work, life, and children returning to school.
Molly Burdess' opinion is: I really think the nine to five workday is changing. And I feel for all parents out there and I feel for all employers out there and I just think this is going to be really hard. I mean, if you're in an industry where you can work virtually and offer flexible schedules, I mean, that's awesome. But there's a lot of us that can't and I'm one one of those that we have frontline associates and I am not sleeping because of it.
But, how can we manage the people requesting to work from home? Patrick Moran says we're allowing it in a lot of in the positions that we're able to. We have a group of people that still have not come back since March 16. You know, we encourage them to come back, we've already made a lot of changes in departments where people sit close together, where we've created extra spacing, and have actually moved people in different areas in our facilities. That way, there's at least more than 10 feet of space in between, we just don't have cube farms. I mean, that's not a thing we've ever really had any way. If there are people that have a relative or their son is sick but can't get tested, and they just want to stay home and work all over the world.
We had all employee meetings recently and we flat out said, you know, we're gonna be we're gonna do our best to be flexible. We understand everybody's going to have these types of situations especially with daycare and school. You know, as long as we all work together, we'll be fine. Is it gonna be painful here and there? Yeah, it will be painful for supervisors, maybe some work, we'll get out, you know, a few days later than our goals. We're all in this together. People I think just need to be a little more understanding of that as an employer we're trying to be, and we want to communicate that to our employees.
There is a concern that some employees will take advantage of the situation, but I choose to believe the best in people, and I would rather be more flexible in the situation of working from home for the greater good of all employees.
Molly said: You're doing better than I am Patrick, this is something I've really struggled with, because we have a small group of individuals on our team. And we're pretty much all leaders that can work from home and the rest of our staff is working with the public like hands on in the public. Personally, I just really struggle that to be a good leader. I can't show up to my office every day when I'm asking you to go out and work with the public.
Patrick said One of the areas where I struggle sometimes is our Manufacturing staff that can't work from home. It's a situation where it's a school closure, and maybe they're not a high wage earner here yet they have to be home on two thirds pay for two weeks or whatever. If your daycare closes, yeah, that hurts. It hurts the pocketbook, and it hurts them. And that's all that they can do. And we're gonna run it. We have ran into it, we're gonna run into more of it. And you got to take a case by case right? It's all you can do.
I'm curious to see the work from home impact after COVID has gone. I think that the the employers that can figure out ways to effectively work from home and continue to maintain teamwork, collaboration, productivity, efficiency, all that are going to be in a position where they're going to have the pick of the talent pool versus employers that can't. For the employers out there, I strongly encourage you to think about the ramifications there.
My organization, as an example, did not do work from home before this, threw together a policy in like a week to try to address some of the things that we thought might come up. And and now this thing has just has just dragged on. But we're also seeing challenges where the team is not collaborating as much. We're seeing some some work challenges where people used to have conversations at the watercooler happened by someone's office and having a conversation to solve a problem that they were facing and, and just just the general camaraderie of the office. You know, I'll be curious to see how our workplace changes but I'm concerned that if we do too much work from home, we're actually going to become very impersonal and it could actually be bad for the culture.
Molly Burdess said Yeah, I think we as HR and just leaders have to be very intentional about our culture and that as well, what I'm seeing a lot of is people obviously when you're communicating in person, you have body language, you have all that other stuff. So I've been really intentional about really trying to over communicate what is happening, what's going on. So we're seeing that as well. One thing I want to add Kyle, because there's a lot like me, my staff, they can't work from home like there's no way that we could work from home so just wait I keep going back to is like, okay, when if this comes, how can we get creative with schedules to allow them to be able to do what they need to do with their family and at their home, and then also still make a living. So I think that's probably what we're going to see in the organizations that really don't have that option to work from home. Just get creative. One question I have, the end of the 40 Hour Workweek?
From my perspective, I take the opposite view. I think we're going to have a 50 plus hour work week for people working from home because they can't shut it off. That's one of the other concerns. At home, I'm always at work because I have work available all the time and I could, I could literally deal with something work related 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So you know, I get into the the work life balance concern, and everybody needs some level of rest. And if they can't get some level of rest, I get concerned about long term sustainability as well.
I think if you have a job like HR or a job where your your mental state is a significantly important part of decision making and moving an organization forward and making sure that people are safe. If you're constantly under stress, and you don't ever get a break, you're going to start making bad decisions.
Public service announcement of the day, everybody take a break. Rest. Or, drink at noon like Patrick.
If you are an essential employer and you and or you don't have the ability to offer work from home, to your employees, you need to do the best to make that culture comfortable to work in, and you need to make sure that people feel safe going to work or you're gonna lose people. You know, might be okay, you might be okay. When unemployment is like 8% to 12%, depending on your region. Have you guys seen a spike in turnover?
Molly Burdess said yes. In my industry, what I'm finding, especially when we came back when we were close for two and a half months, they're like, I love to be at home. I want to be at home with my kids. So they stayed at home. So we are in that side and my other retail location, not necessarily. I think another thing we can do as employers that can offer employees work from home aside from just being as flexible as possible for schedules is offer more paid time off paid leave. I think that could be and should probably be something that we could do. And then really just continue to talk about why we're here and what our purpose presses in this world, especially him in everything that we're doing right now.
Patrick said That's been extremely tough. People were bummed out, they can't sit at in the break room with their friends and eat lunch anymore. People were bummed that they had to sit up their workstations are just at their desk. Yet, we're not giving them the Wi Fi password so they can use the internet on their phone. There were so many little things like that, that we recognized. It's tough. We've tried to be reassuring. We've tried to send communication emails and memos or letters to employees multiple times a week and we're still trying to do that. We're probably doing it bi weekly now just reassuring them on what we're doing. We were constantly telling them how much we appreciate them. Our Salesforce is stuck at home, they can Be out right now. I think they're just slowly starting to get back out into our industry, which is healthcare as doctors offices slowly open. But yeah, it's been tough. We're just trying to do our best with paying attention to people and reassuring them. We can't bring in snacks anymore and things like that. The other day we brought into taco truck. It was the first time we brought in food since early March. So that was nice. People loved it. We're gonna do another one tomorrow. Any little thing you can try to do to show appreciation is, I think goes a long ways. We also have an employee incentive program, that we're seeing supervisors incentivize employees a lot more with prizes, and that's been helpful. Molly, what are some of the things that you're doing?
Molly: Yeah, so I am in an organization where we have several different locations. And I have been, I have found the key to culture is working with our leaders, helping them understand how to create a good culture because it's really the little things that they do. So a lot of training, a lot of just giving them ideas on here some things that you can do, and also helping them understand people's mental states and how to, there's a lot going on and they need to understand how to support their employees through at all. Otherwise, we're you know, we're doing things we're trying to virtual happy hours, we're doing a lot more all associate calls and just really trying to over communicate as much as we can. And it's crazy, you know, the biggest thing I think a lot of employers should have thought about and hopefully they did is the decisions that they were making through when all this first hits how that has an impact on their culture today. I just read this actually the other day, and it said there was there's been over a 70% increase in Glassdoor reviews mention mentioning layoffs and how they handled them. COVID that crazy?
Patrick said, Crazy. You said earlier, it's just so interesting, interesting about being close with the leaders and educating them on, you know, what to look for and pay attention to your culture. And this isn't a knock on leaders in any organization. But it's a situation like this pandemic, that really opened your eyes on how far removed not all of them, but a few leaders and managers and maybe even some of them on the frontlines, were removed from the actual culture and what's happening with the employees they they even interact with daily. And I think that's one of the best things that come out of this pandemic is how eye opening. This has been and we're paying attention more at least I hope and it looks like it with the conversations I continue to have with all of our managers and leaders is I'm seeing them pay attention more, which to me has been refreshing and I think to anybody in an HR type of role.
It's very difficult to To build a culture when you're dealing with the level of concern and fear and societal unrest that we're dealing with. But I think the other thing that I've seen is, especially with working from home, but as I've been dealing with employee concerns, is employees have to be much more authentic with their concerns than they than they did in the past.
We are asking questions of people that are probably uncomfortable, maybe a little bit personal or trying to understand how we can help people through the stressors of their life. And so, being open and listening for me and for my leaders in my company has really forced us to get to know our people better. From a culture building standpoint, how do we how do we turn that into intentional and clear support of our employees outside of work in a way that helps them want to continue to work for me, right, which is really easy to say on a podcast.
To actually do that day in and day out, it takes a lot of rigor and focus. It starts with the frontline leader. It starts with the person that gets the concern brought to them about child care, or school or an ailing family member, or themselves. Then that supervisor doing the right thing, being empathetic and bringing that to the person that can help foster the appropriate response.
If you do the right thing for your team today, and you treat your team right today, that will pay off tomorrow.
HR in the Times of COVID
I feel like we are shifting gears into more of a new normal as it relates to the world of work. COVID is now just another thing on the plate of HR to deal with, in addition to everything else. I know that there has been a significant amount of disruption in our jobs, but also in a number of people's day to day work experiences, and unfortunately, some people's jobs have been impacted.
Let's talk about recruiting. There's obviously going to be a number of people entering the marketplace right now looking for new jobs. I'd like to help our readers think about job seeking from an HR standpoint. How are we changing our recruiting processes? What are we doing? From a candidate standpoint, what are some things that you can do to help yourself be in a great position for an opportunity?
The interview process is changing drastically. Video interviews, limited interviewers, and physically distanced interviews are the norm. One of the challenges a candidate and employer will face is how to get a true sense of job fit without a fully immersive experience.
The other challenge a candidate will be facing is the drastically larger number of candidates in the job search. How you do set yourself apart? By being authentic, and ensuring your digital footprint will connect you to the right opportunity.
Pre-pandemic, in one organization, for a software development role, it would take a week to find maybe 10 or 15. In the first three days when they posted a developer position, over 40 applied.
What we're seeing in my organization is even even larger numbers. In the hundreds of applicants, we had to screen almost 500 applicants for an open position in Minneapolis, for instance. This is very different than about six months ago as it relates to number of applicants. So from a from a candidates perspective, there's a larger competitive landscape out there. A lot of people have been impacted.
In order to screen candidates, many HR professionals are asking questions related to how candidates have handled COVID. Probing questions just about how their current or previous employers handled COVID, and if they agreed with it, if they didn't, what they liked what they didn't like, etc.
HR is learning as we go. We don't know what's going to work, and we are doing our best to make educated decisions related to recruiting and retention. The people that are the most creative and, and innovative and able to flex the processes quickly and be nimble as an employer. Employers who do this will win in the long term.
On the candidate side, innovation, flexibility and the ability to pivot will set you apart. I've had conversations with a number of people who were impacted at no fault of their own. Absolutely stellar candidates resume I would love to have had across my desk when we were in full blown hiring mode. People need to put themselves out there and start to make connections.
A local contact reached out to me wasn't asking anything of me just wanting to learn, wanting to learn what we're looking for, learn about the company, get the name out there. He had been laid off from a local manufacturer, and was looking for advice. Guess whose resume I have sitting on my desk for the next time an opportunity opens up. As a HR professional, I also share those great candidates with my network when I don't have an opportunity open at my company.
Just. Make. Connections.
REbel Human REsources Podcast
2020 has been a weird year... As an eternal extrovert, I miss my people the most. My favorite part of a SHRM or DisruptHR meeting is the connection and conversation with my other HR peeps.
This desire is what led to the Rebel Human Resources Podcast. I am so impressed with the things that HR can do within an organization and community. Through this podcast, we are able to discuss some of these topics with awesome guests and learn from their stories and experiences.
When I pitched the idea to my DisruptHR co-founders, I think they thought "Oh Great, another of Kyle's crazy ideas." So here we go again...
Check out our first episode! I just hope it's not boring...
The HR Origin Story
Why HR? I get that question a lot. Like many other professionals in the HR space, I fell into it. I was working as a retail manager running an operations department, and a vacancy prompted me to take a HR role. My training and education was in the field of Business and Marketing. Once I began recruiting and developing others, I felt at home.
After spending 5 years in the retail HR space, I needed a change (mostly better hours, since my wife was expecting). I found a job in the manufacturing space. I went from a progressive organization, where HR was the heart of the culture and a driver of talent, to an organization who thought HR was the "principal's office". That started my journey as a HR Disruptor.
Through the course of many years, my view on HR is that "Old school" HR is a path to failure. If we aren't nimble, innovative, and challenging the status quo, HR will simply be a cog in the machine of mediocrity. That's why I started this blog to help other HR practitioners who see the same problem.
Join me on my journey to help other like-minded HR professionals drive culture improvements, inclusion, and continuous improvement at their organizations!
I'm the Vice President - Human Resources for CPM Holdings, Inc. In this role, I oversees the aspects of Human Resources for 27 domestic and international locations in 11 countries. I've previously held progressive HR roles for Fortune 500 organizations.