Break down prejudices to build a stronger team

Even though we think we can be objective, we all have biases – and can be affected by the biases of others, whether we know it or not.

Do you know how to manage and reduce the prejudices that exist in you and in others? Learning how to do this can help you build a more diverse, inclusive, self-aware and successful organization.

Lubna Shuja, Vice President of the Law Society, and Christine Williams, Director of Legal Affairs at Travelers Europe, discussed how they experienced and dealt with bias in their own careers in a recent Travelers Talks podcast with Sharon Glynn.

“We are all affected by prejudice,” Lubna said. “Understanding our biases can help us mitigate them in our actions and behaviors – and ensure they don’t affect our decisions.”

To identify where bias may be hiding in plain sight in your organization, it can be helpful to understand the common types of bias that affect people:

  • unconscious bias exists when a person attaches qualities to certain groups. These views can influence their attitudes, behaviors and decision-making. Assuming that women are better suited to caring responsibilities within a family is an example of unconscious bias
  • people show affinity bias when they favor those with whom they share qualities or experiences. This can happen when a hiring manager favors a candidate from their hometown — or even when someone plans a networking weekend at a ski resort every year, assuming attendees are comfortable on tracks
  • confirmation bias occurs when we seek out or interpret information in a way that confirms what we already believe. A person who thinks men are more decisive leaders might notice more naturally when a man speaks assertively in a meeting or displays other qualities associated with leadership.
  • when people favor those in their network or neighborhood – which is common when transitioning to hybrid working – proximity bias is at play. This could impact who is considered for a sought-after assignment or role , or whose contribution is remembered during a meeting with in-person and remote participants

Bias in action – and actions to mitigate it

Once, while working as an underwriter, Christine had the opportunity to develop business in Argentina – and although she had done similar work in Cuba, she was told it was inappropriate for a businesswoman. accept the mission in Argentina.

Because the company she worked for told Christine directly, she could ask them what evidence they had that a woman could not develop a business in the marketplace.

“I strongly suspect that it was not only about being a woman in that market, but also a woman of color,” she said. “Sometimes you don’t know you’re on the wrong side of prejudice.”

Whether biases are explicit or implicit, the good news is that there are tools a company can use to better filter them out.

Lubna says that when recruiting for bar positions, they try to omit details of a candidate’s name, gender, background, education and age when making their decision.

Similarly, she suggested that managers could allocate work blindly to reduce bias. At the employee level, frequent training and drills can help people see the biases they didn’t know they had and gain the confidence to challenge those they see in their organization.

Sharon said the combination of awareness and conscious action is the formula for dealing with bias. By being aware that biases exist in everyone and taking steps to prevent them from influencing our behaviors and decision-making, we can become better allies for others.

“It’s about advancing a culture of inclusivity through intentional, positive and conscious action,” Sharon said.

Christine said being a good ally requires a person to listen, understand and speak out about biases. It can help a person understand what it is like to be in another person’s shoes.

To support this, an organization can encourage reverse mentoring to give an employee a better understanding of experiences they wouldn’t otherwise have.

A manager can take criticism calmly and with an open mind. Sometimes we can express bias without even realizing we’re offending another person — and we can grow if we’re open to challenges and willing to change and grow.

Leaders have an important responsibility to appreciate that they are not subject to the biases faced by employees at lower levels of the organization. They can create safe places where employees can share feedback and hire various leaders to serve as role models in the organization.

“Covenant means using your privilege to uplift people,” Lubna said. “As you go up the ladder, you should pull people up to make it easier for them to climb.”