Mitigating Bias in the Age of Remote Working

I am taking an uncomfortable look at how my biases show up and I am actively working on noticing and changing my own biased behavior by following a process.

Pre-Covid, I was the captain of a hockey team. In my role as captain, I was privileged to provide opportunity for other players. Each week, I asked substitute players to join the team I captained. As much as I value inclusion and equity, when I reviewed my choices over time, it was clear that my biases for white players and extroverts systematically influenced who I asked to sub. This was true despite the fact that I am aware that I have these unconscious biases. But, awareness isn’t enough. I need to follow a process to make sure my biases don’t show up in my behavior.

The process I now use before asking anybody to sub is to refer to the list of all available players. I am repeatedly surprised by how often Asian players and introverts (our league is primarily white and Asian) were simply “out of sight, out of mind” for me, no matter how talented they were. Admitting this isn’t comfortable. And yet, if my personal discomfort is the price for creating more equity in my league, then I can allow myself to be uncomfortable.

Remote working arrangements intensify this “out of sight, out mind” bias, especially for underrepresented groups, and especially in organizations that have relied heavily on co-location to create team bonds. Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to make sure you assign work and growth opportunities in a fair way.

  • Refer to your org chart when assigning work to be sure that everyone is receiving equitable opportunities.
  • Think not only about who can do the work, but who would like an opportunity to learn a new skill. Provide development opportunities to them.
  • Keep lists of the projects your reports are working on and periodically review them to make sure that glamorous work that leads to visibility and the non-glamorous housekeeping work that keeps the organization running are equally distributed across the team.
  • Build relationships with all your reports in your 1:1 meetings. Ask open-ended questions about their interests and their career goals so you really get to know them on an individual level.

If you are suddenly noticing patterns of bias that you were not previously aware of, these steps are making a difference. Stick with them. Be willing to risk your own discomfort in pursuit of the behaviors that create inclusion and equity for your team.

Even better, advocate for wider adoption of equitable processes in your organization.  If you want any coaching or support on developing your processes, let us know.

Kai Stowers is an LGBTQ leader and inclusion builder with expertise in transformational change.  He is a partner and guest blogger in CultureSync’s diversity, equity, and inclusion work.

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