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ATD Blog

How to Become a Bias Interrupter at Work

Thursday, October 28, 2021
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We’re often told as children to not interrupt, and many of us have come to associate the word interruption with negativity. But what if we didn’t?

Engagement and inclusion aren’t the only positive words when it comes to creating a culture of belonging. They work in tandem with bias interruption to ensure that everyone has a place at the table.

Common Workplace Biases

Becoming a bias interrupter means noticing everyday occurrences that exclude or negatively affect marginalized groups and taking action to speak up. But before you start stepping up and stepping in, consider these four ways bias can rear its head in the workplace:

  1. Prove it again. Some marginalized groups face biases that require them to verify themselves more than others. Their credentials may be questioned, or they may have to work additional hours to get the same credit as someone else who works fewer hours.
  2. Walking a tightrope. The range of accepted behavior is narrower for some groups, causing them to constantly walk a thin line of perfection that’s often unreachable.
  3. The maternal wall. Women with children are often caught in a Catch-22 of disapproval for being either too work- or too family-oriented with no happy medium.
  4. Tug-of-war. Marginalized groups often find themselves pitted against each other as a means of preserving the norm and authority of the majority.

When it comes to bias and its creation of unequal workplaces, awareness alone isn’t enough. Instead, we must put our knowledge to work by not just noticing bias but interrupting it.

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Interrupting Bias in the Recruitment Process

When it comes to countering bias in your business, start with the hiring process. Help build a strong foundation by following these four tips during recruitment:

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  • Deepen the pool. You’ll never end up with a truly diverse workforce if you don’t begin by drawing from a diverse assortment of candidates.
  • Redefine “culture fit” and demand accountability. A “good fit” has long been a coded term for “most like us,” but while specific criteria for hiring is essential, this type of fit is outdated and bad for inclusivity. Instead, focus on objectivity.
  • Limit referrals. If your company has a homogeneity problem, make sure you’re diversifying where you locate new talent. By focusing primarily on referrals or sources with which you’re already familiar, you’re missing out on differing perspectives.
  • Focus on the skills. Creating an objective rubric focused on skills can work as an antidote for unconscious bias. Try posing direct questions and evaluating answers on the spot to counter favoritism and the similarity bias.

Interrupting Bias in the Office

Many of the unconscious biases people encounter in their day-to-day work life go on ignored by those they don’t affect. For instance, consider office “housework” such as cleaning communal kitchens and breakrooms. While it’s something some leaders may not even notice, women report doing 29 percent more of this side work than their male colleagues. And while who picks up after lunch may seem like a small issue, these sorts of biases have a ripple effect. Try countering these everyday biases with these four tips:

  1. Rotate office duties. Leaders can fix an unequal cycle of office duties by planning and assigning small jobs rather than waiting for volunteers. Team members from nonmarginalized groups can also step up and proactively volunteer for office housework.
  2. Mind who you pick to lead important projects. Let’s say Tom, a white male employee, is your go-to big project leader. Instead of defaulting to Tom the next time a task comes up, take the time to truly consider team members who might've been overlooked in the past and could bring a fresh perspective to the job.
  3. Be a proactive equalizer. When you sink into familiar patterns, there’s a solid chance you’re falling into unconscious bias ruts at the same time. Consider the team, try mixing things up from time to time, and make sure to look out for the contributions made by team members at every level.
  4. Speak up and encourage communication. Here’s where the literal interrupting comes in. If you notice bias in action, do something. If your female team members are being talked over, give them the floor. If a person of color’s contributions are questioned, shut down the argument. And if you notice that certain members of your team are always the ones to speak up or voice concerns or ideas, seek the perspectives of others to counteract their opinions.

While there’s no way to escape unconscious bias altogether, by making a proactive effort to become a bias interrupter, you can help create a more inclusive workplace. When you work on your own biases and speak up when you see others instigating or experiencing them, you can create a ripple effect of progress and inclusivity in your workplace.

About the Author

Since joining the Blue Ocean Brain team in 2018, Lillian Clark has written hundreds of articles covering a broad range of topics including technology, organization, productivity, creativity, and leadership with a special focus on diversity, inclusivity, and equity. From monthly celebrations of diverse heritage to lessons about conquering bias and improving inclusivity in the workplace and beyond, Clark builds from her own education and experiences as an author and reader.

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