Dealing with Implicit Biases in Retention
By Jenny Okonkwo, MBA FCMA(UK), FPAC, CGMA CPA,CMA
Managing and mitigating implicit biases in the workplace is not a sprint, rather more a marathon. Similarly, it is not a destination and is instead a journey.
What this suggests is that it’s not a “one and done” deal – as an example, research indicates that a single delivery of unconscious bias training is not enough to create and establish the change needed to build and scale an inclusive work environment. It is recommended that such training is repeated at regular intervals each year to provide a recap and start the process of embedding the changes in employee behaviours needed to build and foster a culture of workplace inclusion.
In the online article “Minimizing and addressing implicit bias in the workplace” authored by Shamika Dalton, interim associate director and professor of legal research at University of Florida Levin College Law, and Michele Villagran, assistant professor, School of Information, at San Jose State University, the authors state the employee retention is related to workplace equity. Their position therefore implies that in order to increase equity, implicit biases need to be reduced. The authors outline five main ways:
1. Cultural awareness training
Managers increasingly need to be equipped with the cross-cultural leadership skills and competencies to be able to manage the complexity associated with leading, developing and motivating culturally diverse teams. As leaders, they are expected to role model those necessary inclusive behaviours and set the appropriate tone in the workplace.
2. Create an inclusive work environment
Underrepresented groups need to feel that the leadership is “walking the talk” as opposed to simply “talking the talk” when it comes to addressing implicit bias to improve employee retention. The former set of behaviours is demonstrated by actively ensuring that the workplace environment (book, magazine displays, portraits, website etc.) is representative of the employee base.
3. Mentoring Programs
Research has shown that companies with formal mentoring programs have seen representation of minorities in the workplace increase from 9% to 24%. They are a great support resource for those employees who may not feel they ‘belong’ if workplace representation is very low and can be turned to when issues arise.
It is recommended that decision-making criteria is reviewed, redefined and updated to help reduce bias within the process of identifying those employees being considered for larger career opportunities. Employers are also encouraged to consider restructuring their organization to allow for expansion of opportunities with equity in mind. If the latter isn’t an option other opportunities could be presented in the form of mentorships, shadowing and internships.
5. Assessment (“What gets measured gets managed”)
Dalton and Villagran recommend that the employees are surveyed confidentially at every stage of the employment process, from resume screening, hiring, promotion, compensation, engagement through to the performance management process. In particular soliciting feedback from underrepresented equity-seeking groups to understand what biases they have encountered and the impact on their careers.
Introduction of Employee Resource Groups
Employee resource groups (ERGs): ERGs are defined by Catalyst as “voluntary, employee-led groups that foster a diverse, inclusive workplace aligned with organizational mission, values, goals, business practices, and objectives. Other benefits include the development of future leaders, increased employee engagement and expanded marketplace reach.”
Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), in its Commitments to Inclusion Statement published on its website, states its ERGs bring together employees who share a common identity, characteristics and sets of interests. They create a culture of inclusion that enhances employee engagement and further supports their organizational vision and values. Examples of their ERGs include groups that focus specifically on:
|Women||Visible minorities||Young professionals|
|Veterans and troops||LGBTQ people||People with disabilities|
With reference to the TD Bank website, there are a number of established “Business Resource Groups (BRGs)/Affinity Groups” in focus areas similar to RBC. Additional groups at TD Bank include:
|Black Employee Network (BEN)||Women in Leadership (WIL)||Minorities in Leadership (MIL)|
These employee-led, volunteer groups can provide a highly effective and professional learning and development resource. They provide workplace-oriented opportunities for those seeking help and support in recognizing their own biases and in growing their inclusive leadership skills.
They provide a platform to start constructive conversations in the business environment that create and increase awareness within the organization, with the aim of mitigating implicit biases related to their own particular shared identity, characteristics and interests.
A recent Deloitte Insights report explained that unmitigated implicit bias “dilutes the perception of objectivity and fairness in an organization and can negatively impact employee productivity, engagement, and wellbeing… Biases can cause decisions that are unfair and irrational, lead to systemic discrimination, limit innovation, and create a negative brand perception. Particularly within performance management, biases can lead to inconsistencies in goal difficulty and evaluation, coaching and feedback, development opportunities, and rewards.”
To combat the above, leaders are encouraged to identify and become aware of their own biases, become role models embracing and respecting difference, allow employees to be their whole selves at work, act as allies for underprivileged employees and sponsor ERG projects and initiatives. Feedback data received from ERGs relating to inclusion gaps in the workplace in relation to both perceived and experiential bias creates an opportunity to implement a data-driven approach to analyzing trends and identify any disturbing patterns. A business case can subsequently be built with a resulting action plan for leaders to mitigate the business risk arising from the implicit biases identified, by taking the necessary gap-closing measures.
For more diversity, equity and inclusion resources, visit the AFP DEI Resources page here.
Jenny Okonkwo is the President of Transform Consulting and Founder of Black Female Accountants Network, a volunteer led professional women’s network with membership across Canada, the UK, the US, and Europe. Jenny is a Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Advocate and following a successful career in Corporate FP&A and Consulting, her most recent role was in the nonprofit sector, establishing partnerships with employers to develop and foster diverse and immigrant inclusive workplaces. She has been formally recognized by the Canadian government for her contributions to the youth and professional community and was a 2020 WXN Top 100 Award Nominee, which celebrates Canada’s 100 most powerful women in business.
Okonkwo is an author and regularly speaks at conferences and events hosted by Chartered Professional Accountants of Ontario. She was the keynote speaker at the 2020 AICPA-CIMA Women’s Global Leadership Summit, having previously been invited to speak and act as Conference Chair for Day 2 of the 2019 event.
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