Workplace bias occurs when someone makes assumptions about another person’s character, intelligence, or capabilities based on how they look, speak, or behave. It causes some members of the workforce to be unfairly excluded from experiences and opportunities for which they are qualified.
The most common type of bias in the workplace is implicit, or unconscious. Most individuals don’t set out to treat team members unfairly—they just don’t realize they are doing so. As a manager, it’s important that you act proactively to avoid unconscious bias from negatively impacting your team.
Here are some practical steps you can take in an effort to reduce bias in the workplace and ensure that your culture is inclusive.
Use skills-based questions when interviewing candidates.
Define the skills and abilities required for each position and craft interview questions that relate. Ask every job candidate the same question and rate the answers immediately. This will allow you to compare candidates using a clearly defined, objective rubric rather than relying on a subjective “gut instinct.” Your supervisor and/or HR team can likely provide more specific guidance on interviewing.
Limit referral hiring.
There is a widely held belief about recruitment that says the social network of your current team members is a great place to find future team members. That makes a lot of sense—unless you are attempting to create a more diverse organization. If you are looking to diversify your talent pool, look further in your recruitment activities. Find agencies or institutions in your local community where you can connect with a diverse candidate pool.
Encourage expression and inclusion.
According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), “It is incumbent on company leadership to prioritize policies that allow employees to feel like they can express who they are at work and that celebrate them for those attributes. When employees feel that they have to hide or mask core parts of themselves at work, it can impact motivation, engagement, and ultimately retention and turnover rates.” Here’s an example of how to put this into practice. Rather than designating a religious holiday such as Christmas as a paid day off for all team members, offer a floating holiday instead. Doing so allows you to accommodate the religious preferences of all employees while adhering to applicable vacation pay laws.
Assign tasks equitably.
Harvard Business Review (HBR) identifies what they call “office housework”—you know, the nearly invisible tasks that aren’t really anyone’s job but have to get done, such as arranging for lunch to be brought in for the team or cleaning up after a meeting. According to HBR, women report doing about 20% more office housework than their white male counterparts. An easy way to avoid this is to set up a rotation for such work. Don’t ask for volunteers; doing so may seem like an ideal solution, but guess what? In most workplaces, you’ll find that some folks are eager to help while others never will—and the inequity will persist. Interrupt it by assigning the tasks equitably.
Let all voices be heard.
In every work team you will find some individuals to be more opinionated and outspoken than others. The onus is on you, as the supervisor, to ensure that all members of your team are able to contribute and no one is drowned out or subject to constant interruptions. If one or more individuals dominate the conversation in your meetings, address it directly. Talk with them privately and explain that you think it is important to hear everyone’s contributions. Some members of the team may not assert themselves enough to speak up, so it’s important to ask them to weigh in. Extend an invitation, such as: “Cristina, you have experience with lease-ups—what do think of our proposed ad campaign? Will it connect with our student housing demographic?”
Create opportunities for coworkers to interact.
According to HireVue, working with individuals of different groups is one of the most tried-and-true ways of breaking down reliance on stereotypes. However, work teams and departments are often segmented by race and gender (maintenance departments are primarily men, for example). Look for opportunities to create cross-disciplinary, self-managed teams where individuals come together as equals. One example is the creation of a committee to make recommendations on community capital improvements for the new budget year.
Use skills-based questions when evaluating performance.
We’ve established that defining the skills and abilities required for a position is appropriate when interviewing job candidates. It’s also a good way of measuring performance. Use a clearly defined rubric for performance reviews. Report objectively on team members’ measurable contributions, rather than making subjective observations such as, “She’s a joy to be around,” or “He is a hard worker.”
If you’ve ever felt obligated to attend an after-hours gathering organized by your boss, you’ll understand this next suggestion. Business should take place in the office, not over happy hour, on the golf course, or at the gym—otherwise you may be giving an artificial advantage to people who feel more comfortable in those settings or whose personal interests overlap with yours. Does this mean after-hours outings with co-workers are off-limits? Not at all. Just be careful to limit the work conversation, and don’t allow your extra-curricular gatherings to influence work decisions.
Off duty means off duty.
Avoid planning events that take place outside of normal work hours. Similarly, don’t expect team members to be responsive to calls, texts, or emails outside of normal work hours. Otherwise, you risk putting those who are parents, caregivers, or have an inflexible schedule for any reason at a disadvantage.
If you would like to better understand the challenges, needs, and issues surrounding diversity and inclusion in your multifamily workplace, I invite you to participate in Swift Bunny’s free Diversity and Inclusion Employee Survey, underway now. Our goal is to help you obtain relevant and candid feedback on your team members’ perceptions surrounding these very important issues. Learn more about this easy, efficient, confidential, and no-cost survey using the link below.