No one has immunity from bias; every person is shaped by their own experiences and has their own prejudices, whether they want to admit it or not. The old saying “birds of a feather flock together” often rings true. This does not mean that people are inherently bad; in fact, sometimes they might not even realize they have implicit bias in certain situations. The reality is that individuals are drawn to others who inherently look and act similar, and this is especially apparent in the workplace. This can cause problems by creating a false consensus bias and homophily, which can lead to unproductive groupthink and a lack of innovation.

There is hope, however, especially when these biases are addressed on a personal level. The first step is to acknowledge that everyone has personal prejudices. The second — and perhaps most important — step is that once this self-awareness is acknowledged, conscious steps must be made to be impartial. This is the bigger challenge, but no one can work on step two without recognizing step one. Luckily, there are ways that individuals can combat their own implicit and unconscious biases.

IDENTIFY IMPLICIT OR UNCONSCIOUS BIAS

Implicit or unconscious bias tests are assessments that individuals can utilize to determine the beliefs that they are unaware of or unwilling to admit. Harvard’s Implicit Association Test measures the strength of associations between concepts (e.g., Black people, gay people) and evaluations (e.g., good, bad) or stereotypes (e.g., athletic, clumsy). For example, someone might believe that men and women should equally be associated with science, but their automatic responses could show that they associate men with science more frequently. Assessments like these are a good way to establish a benchmark and determine areas with room for improvement. Once these areas are identified (the results can often be surprising), it is important to practice mindfulness — pay attention to the thoughts and associations given to others who are different.

According to Quantum Workplace, only 56 percent of organizations actually build continuous education into each person’s development plan. Education and training around diversity and inclusion needs to be viewed as a year-round, continuous initiative. For example, someone may be raised to respect their elders, but they might find out that they favor younger colleagues over older colleagues in the workplace. Or they may find that in the hiring process, they have prejudgments based on the spelling of a name before even meeting that person — Joe vs. Jose, for example. It is critical to build this self-awareness and then work to overcome it on a regular basis.

MOVE BEYOND COMFORT ZONES

Stepping outside of a comfort zone means trying things never tried before and learning things never learned before. A comfort zone is a psychological state in which things feel familiar to a person, causing them to feel at ease and in control of their environment. One way to explore beyond a comfort zone is making a conscious effort to befriend those who are different to break down those barriers.

Consider joining a group or culture that makes diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) important — a Black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) cohort or employee resource group (ERG) are excellent options. ERGs are voluntary, employee-led groups whose members have shared characteristics such as gender, ethnicity or interests. Going beyond comfort zones forces one to research and educate themselves to foster conversations. Having a team to bounce ideas off and have those conversations with allows individuals to network, learn and grow with people they may not have otherwise been put into a position to meet. According to TopMBA, 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies have ERGs. These groups help support employees’ personal and professional goals while fostering a more diverse and inclusive workplace.

BE MINDFUL OF LANGUAGE USED

Language is paramount. It is a means of communication, expression and understanding. It also has the power to validate and acknowledge. However, implicit biases may cause the wrong message to be received.

For example, many have heard this riddle: “A father and son get into a car crash and are rushed to the hospital. The father dies. The boy is taken to the operating room, but the surgeon says, ‘I can’t operate on this boy because he is my son.’ How can this be?” Often, people cannot solve the riddle based on gender bias. (The surgeon is the boy’s mother.)

For communication to be effective, it needs to appropriately address all audiences for which it is intended. The Linguistic Society of America provides guidelines on inclusive language meant to create a flexible framework for using language that is empowering and respectful. Inclusive language acknowledges diversity, conveys respect to all, is sensitive to differences and promotes equitable opportunities.

According to Quantum Workplace, people may not have the decision-making power when it comes to talent and promotions, but they can still hold others accountable for everyday interactions. This includes using inclusive language, making team members feel welcomed and participating in continuous education efforts. Try to keep word choice “team-centric” in the workplace by addressing the group as a whole and giving each person the same opportunities. Roundtables are one way that meetings have become more inclusive, since they provide everyone the opportunity to speak and provide insights.

RECRUITMENT AND MENTORSHIP STRATEGIES

When it comes to recruiting, remote work environments allow for expanding search methods and attracting talent from different geographies or backgrounds. Even if an individual is not directly playing a role in hiring, they can suggest networks or other qualified individuals who may be suited for the role but are otherwise traditionally overlooked. Diversify the resume pile and consider hiding names during the HR resume process. All too often, unconscious bias can creep in due to gender or ethnicity assumptions based on names.

According to the Association for Talent Development (ATD), intentional, formal mentoring programs also have the potential to create greater DEIA within an organization. Mentors benefit from knowing their time was used to create change, and mentees benefit from advancing and growing their career. Overall, the organization can build a more diverse and inclusive workplace culture, as mentors and mentees often end up learning from each other.

A lack of intention and structure within informal mentoring presents a hurdle for mentorship. People often engage others who look or act like themselves in these informal relationships, which can leave underrepresented employees disengaged. Therefore, ATD recommends being mindful in mentorship strategies and focusing on intentionality.

Individuals should reflect on their own industry and identify gaps and then embrace opportunities to help others. Then they should identify what can be done to further those opportunities, such as offering resources or mentorship, referring qualified candidates or getting involved with outside organizations that work to bridge the gap.

Accounting, for example, often has a lack of Black representation within organizations. According to the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA), an estimated 5,000 of the 650,000 CPAs in the U.S. are Black. Organizations such as NABA and the National Society of Black Certified Public Accountants (NSBCPA) have been leading the change in the finance industry, and they are great organizations to get involved with, whether through recruitment or networking or volunteering. The NSBCPA recently announced they are launching a boot camp program that is designed to help Black prospective CPAs obtain licensure.

OPPORTUNITIES TO FIND NEW FLOCKS

Empathy is key to tackling unconscious and implicit bias, and no one is perfect. Sometimes situations may arise, but these are opportunities to learn from rather than avoiding conflict or becoming defensive. Do not make assumptions, and apologize when in the wrong. Keep an open mind to understand where things went astray, and make a genuine effort to be more intentional and mindful in the future.

Widen social circles as much as possible, and avoid forming cliques. Identify terms or concepts that are unfamiliar, and take five or 10 minutes on a regular basis to learn something new, such as #BLM, #StopAsianHate or #EndSARS. The old adage of “birds of a feather flock together” can only be thwarted by individuals making a personal effort to understand what they do not know. Anyone can be an ally and a source of support for others, and people can #BeMore together by being catalysts for change.

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Kesha Rand-Bowden

CATEGORIES #BeMore

Kesha Rand-Bowden has more than 20 years of financial accounting and reporting experience. Currently she oversees the day-to-day operations of the GHJ Finance Department, including payroll, accounts payable and accounts receivable while working closely with the other department heads to ensure…Learn More

Sippel Michael

Michael Sippel

Michael Sippel, CPA, CFE, ABV, has over 15 years of entertainment accounting experience. He specializes in profit participations with a focus on performing audits of the production and distribution of motion picture and television programs on behalf of third-party participants, including actors,…Learn More