Step One in the Path to Parity: Tackling Unconscious Bias

Paradigm for Parity’s 5-Point Action Plan

Women are underrepresented at almost every level in the corporate pipeline, and they are drastically underrepresented at the senior levels. And while company commitment to gender diversity is at an all-time high, calls for greater diversity haven’t moved the needle.

There is widespread agreement that more needs to be done. The Paradigm for Parity 5-Point Action Plan is the solution. When implemented together, these five steps can catalyze change and enable substantial progress towards gender parity.

Unconscious biases are “social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness,” according to UCSF’s Office of Diversity & Outreach. No matter our race, gender, background, education or income level, we all hold biases that have been shaped by our education, culture and experience.

Unconscious bias affects the way we think about work, the way we think about a certain job, the way we think about who to promote, and the way we think about employee performance. For women, this creates an automatic barrier to entry for certain industries or positions viewed as more suitable for men.

“It wasn’t that long ago in our industry that when you saw an article about women in mining, you probably saw a woman in a swimsuit with a hard hat!” shares Beatrice Opaku-Asare, Newmont Mining Corporation’s Global Inclusion & Diversity Director.

Data from McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace 2017 finds that inequality in corporate leadership stems from the first promotion. Women make up 47 percent of entry level hires, but are 18 percent less likely to be promoted to manager than their male counterparts. But, by then, unconscious bias has already done its damage.

Inundated in the job description, interview process, and final selection, bias sets a woman up for failure before she even walks in the door. Even after she’s hired, bias in manager feedback, daily interactions with colleagues or company culture continues to harm employee potential. By the time a woman is up for a promotion, a lot has happened to make her a stronger or weaker candidate.

According to findings from the Center for Talent Innovation, of employees who experienced bias, 34% reported withholding ideas or solutions in the last six months. 48% said they looked for a new job while at their current job during the same time period. Data confirms that being an outsider — like the only woman in a boardroom — automatically puts you at a disadvantage.

“While unintentional, teams that are too similar — whether in gender, race, religion, political belief or simply personal interests — can cause limitations for colleagues who differ. This is a slippery slope that can spread into all corners of an organization,” says Joyce Russell, President of Adecco Staffing USA.

The result? Teams with very little diversity, and a perpetuating cycle make it nearly impossible to close the gender gap.

So how can we take out unconscious bias to help women move up through the ranks? Companies will see results if they take steps to address unconscious bias directly, by implementing bias training, improving hiring practices, and addressing barriers to promotions. The 60 Paradigm for Parity companies report that they are well on their way to institutionalizing structural changes to address unconscious bias.

Karyn Twaronite, the Global Diversity and Inclusion Officer at Ernst & Young notes that: “since it may be difficult to recognize our own biases, it’s important to seek out different perspectives when making decisions and to pause, reflect and challenge our decision-making criteria. One way we do this is to ask ourselves if we have certain preferences or traditions that may limit our options. This is most important in situations where decisions may impact our people’s career trajectory and advancement such as a promotion, advancement and more.”

And Laura Mably at Astra Zeneca says the company is “aiming to create self-awareness and processes to mitigate against unconscious bias. We believe this will drive better decision making across the business.”

As the world’s largest women and employee-owned communication consultancy, APCO Worldwide is taking on unconscious bias at its root: in the hiring process. “Fostering a culture of diversity is a part of our DNA. We practice a rigorous hiring process that addresses structural bias, and firmly believe equality is not simply a destination but is an environment that must be built upon and constantly maintained,” explains Agnieszka Yank, APCO’s Chief Talent Officer.

Jacqueline Trapp, the Vice President of Human Resources at Edison International, points out: “The systems and processes of organizations must be examined to look for and remove potential bias. For example, job descriptions must be reviewed to see if they unconsciously exclude viable candidates by requiring specific or technical skills that may not be warranted. While it may not be the intention, it can be part of a system that excludes individuals.”

For Beatrice Opaku-Asare, tackling unconscious bias at Newmont means challenging these misconceptions of representation: “Research has shown that what we see influences what we do and how we think, so it was important to challenge assumptions and show more positive images of real women–who make up 17% of the workforce–in the mining industry. I’m privileged to have the opportunity to do that.”

Addressing unconscious bias is one step in solving the gender gap.

As Steve Mizell, the Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resource Officer of Monsanto notes: “Recognizing our Unconscious Bias is only the first step towards true inclusion. Being able to counter bias, to foster greater inclusion, requires us to move from awareness to action. Progressive companies need to go beyond self-accountability, towards building leadership courage necessary for change.”

By embracing our 5-Point Action Plan, companies can eliminate unconscious biases and move forward on the path to gender parity.