Addressing Bias in the Workplace

A new study identifies key ways in which bias occurs when grooming and promoting talent, maps out which talent cohorts perceive this bias most and how they perceive it, measures its cost to corporate bottom lines, and offers data demonstrating correlations between specific solutions and a lower incidence of perceived bias.

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The study was conducted by the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI), an NYC-based think tank that focuses on global talent strategies and the retention and acceleration of well-qualified labor across the divides of demographic difference including gender, generation, geography, sexual orientation, and culture. CTI surveyed 3,570 college-educated professionals, all of whom were working full time, to determine who perceives bias in the following areas: ability, ambition, commitment, connections, emotional intelligence, and executive presence.

High Cost of Bias

Perceiving bias in two or more of these six areas (which together are the “ACE model”) is correlated with behaviors such as flight risk and brand sabotage that have measurable costs to organizations.
For example, employees who work at large companies (with 1,000 employees or more) who perceive ACE bias are more than three times as likely as those who don’t to plan to leave their employers within the year (31 percent vs. 10 percent.) They are also 2.6 times as likely to have withheld ideas or solutions (34 percent vs. 13 percent) in the past six months at work. And they’re five times as likely (5 percent vs. 1 percent) to speak about their company in a negative manner on social media.
Findings are detailed in the CTI report, Disrupt Bias, Drive Value.
“This report is the first of its kind to quantify the cost of bias,” says Laura Sherbin, co-author of the study, CFO, and head of research at CTI. “The hit delivered to the bottom line should be alarming for any business leader.”

Disrupting Bias

CTI research finds three solutions correlate with lower levels of reported bias:

  • diverse leaders in senior positions;
  • team leaders who practice specific inclusive behaviors; and
  • sponsorship.

“Having diverse leaders in place, we find, is crucial to disrupting bias,” says Ripa Rashid, co-author of the study and executive vice president at CTI. “Executives who are inherently diverse serve as role models for diverse employees, demonstrating that difference is valued and that diverse individuals can thrive at their organizations.”
The report includes a tactical playbook, intended to guide companies in training leaders to be inclusive, to sponsor talent unlike themselves, and to diversify the top tiers of management. Tactics include ways to hire and promote candidates who embody difference, codify and socialize company norms and expectations, and implement a “tone from the top” that endorses a variety of acceptable approaches to leadership. The playbook also contains a data-driven self-assessment, so companies can monitor their interventions’ efficacy and make adjustments as needed.
“When designing this research, we aimed for a fresh, constructive approach,” says Sylvia Ann Hewlett, co-author of the study and founder and CEO of CTI. “The move from those who harbor bias to those who perceive bias allows companies to map, measure, and disrupt bias in new and effective ways.”