Source: Joan C. Williams, Sky Mihaylo, Harvard Business Review, November–December 2019
Companies spend millions on antibias training each year. The goal is to create workforces that are more inclusive, and thereby more innovative and more effective. Studies show that well-managed diverse groups outperform homogeneous ones and are more committed, have higher collective intelligence, and are better at making decisions and solving problems. But research also shows that bias prevention programs rarely deliver. And some companies don’t invest in them at all. So how can you, as an individual leader, make sure your team is including and making the most of diverse voices? Can one person fix what an entire organization can’t?
Although bias itself is devilishly hard to eliminate, it is not as difficult to interrupt. In the decades we’ve spent researching and advising people on how to build and manage diverse work groups, we’ve identified ways that managers can counter bias without spending a lot of time—or political capital.
The first step is to understand the four distinct ways bias plays out in everyday work interactions: (1) Prove it again: Some groups have to prove themselves more than others do. (2) Tightrope: A narrower range of behaviors is accepted from some groups than from others. (3) Maternal wall: Women with children see their commitment and competence questioned or face disapproval for being too career focused. (4) Tug-of-war: Disadvantaged groups find themselves pitted against one another because of differing strategies for assimilating—or refusing to do so.
The second step is to recognize when and where these forms of bias arise day-to-day. In the absence of an organizational directive, it’s easy to let them go unaddressed. That’s a mistake. You can’t be a great manager without becoming a bias interrupter. Here’s how to do it.