The Best Managers First Manage their Own Biases
7 ways leaders fall victim to their personal biases at work (without knowing)
This photo of my two chocolate loving children was taken last Easter. I think you’d agree they look very happy with themselves. And who wouldn’t. Hunting down 1kg of chocolate each, in a matter of mere minutes. But there’s another reason they are smiling. Can you guess?
They have exactly the same number of eggs.
Can you imagine the melt down if one had collected more eggs that the other? I can and I wasn’t going there!
It’s not only kids that want to be treated fairly. We all do, including in the workplace.
Leaders play an important role in creating teams where employees feel they are being treated equally, without bias. Where leaders intentionally stop favouritism from flourishing.
This requires intentional effort. It’s hard to be fair and far easier to focus your attention on team members you like or feel a connection with. Afterall bias often operates unconsciously and our biased actions often conflict with our consciously endorsed beliefs.
If you’re not consciously challenging yourself about how you can be ‘fairer’ then it’s highly likely members of your team will feel left out. If you’ve never asked them, how do you know?
This article is designed to make you question. “Can I recognise, confront and regulate my personal biases to help me be a worthy leader?”
But first why should you care?
How Employees Feel Working For A Biased Boss
Working with a biased boss can affect employee’s self-esteem, motivation and ultimately their productivity.
Disturbingly 46% of workers said they didn’t report bias or discrimination because they lacked the confidence that it would be handled appropriately.
The likely scenario, for those silenced employees should things not get better, will be to leave the company. And for those who do report it, one can only imagine the potential backlash might give cause for them to do the same.
Overall, it’s a costly mistake for any company to not ensure their leaders are treating employees equitably.
Signs Of A Biased Boss
Bias plays out in everyday workplace interactions and decision making – recruitment, retention, performance management, promotion, pay, client relations and allocation of work assignments.
Here are 7 ways leaders fall victim to their personal biases at work.
- Gendered expectations
Because it’s subtle, often invisible, and so deeply embedded in workplace processes, structures and culture we don’t often notice how workplaces favour men and disadvantage women. It’s often not deliberate. Whilst we espouse equal opportunities, leader’s actions fall short and conform to social norms such as ‘women take care, men take charge’. It’s as if our minds are trapped into default thinking that the role of a leader is about competition and assertiveness which are deeply held masculine traits. Women on the other hand are perceived as caring and warm, which are not associated with leadership traits. Even when women exercise traditionally leadership-defined traits (ie agentic) they experience backlash. They are considered too aggressive or ambitious as they violate how with think women should act. This creates a ‘double blind’ for women at work – regardless of the leadership style they adopt, they will meet resistance.
- Consistently overlooking women for promotions, job assignments and raises despite stellar job performance
- Delivering unfair job evaluations based on subjective and unsubstantiated attributes e.g.” You’re too difficult, too pushy”
2. Self-fulling Prophecy
If a leader has higher expectations of an employee, it follows that that employee will perform better. That’s because the leader offers more resources and exhibits leadership behaviours to support and motivate. As a result, employee’s self-expectations and self-belief grows. The opposite is also true. Lower leader expectations result in poorer employee performance. Such neglect and lack of help can impair employee motivation and hurt their performance in the end.
- “He wouldn’t be able to handle that.”
- “She isn’t the right person.”
- “He can’t take on that level of responsibility.”
- “She’s doesn’t have the right personality to lead a team.”
3. Moving Goal Posts
A great metaphor that describes how leaders change the criteria of a process such as who to hire, promote or assign a new project to, whilst the process is in progress. The result, the adjusted goal affords one side an advantage or disadvantage.
- In hiring a candidate that appeals to you, you may choose to discount they don’t fully meet the position description and justify hiring the individual because they’d be ‘a good fit’ or have ‘great potential’. Both these are subjective attributes which weren’t highlighted or defined at the outset of the hiring process.
4. Over And Underestimating The Worth Of Employees
We use a variety of irrelevant cues to make bold sweeping judgements about people.
- Rating employees on skill, intelligence and reliability is coloured depending on whether you like or dislike the employee.
- Women who wear makeup, versus no make up or too much make up are given higher competence ratings.
5. When Facts Don’t Cure Misinformation
When you seek evidence to prove what you believe i.e. “I was right all along”. We have a tendency to dismiss information that doesn’t support our view and place more credence on information that supports our position. One study found for everyone one person who confirms a bias it takes three to disconfirm a stereotype.
- General dissatisfaction with an employee may lead to a manager viewing their work performance in a more negative light
- A woman is passed over for a promotion requiring travel as she has childcare responsibilities
6. Inappropriate Reliance On Assumptions And Myths
Stereotypic assumptions often go untested and even unnoticed. These morph into deeply held truths, leading people to rely more heavily of these ‘untested assumptions”.
- Someone’s memory declines with age
- Men are more likely to be the breadwinner
- Women are more likely to take time off for childcare
- Women are not as physically a strong as men.
How The Best Managers Manage Their Biases
- The best managers make every effort to learn to recognise these bias traps.
- They acknowledge that despite their best intentions they can fall victim to bias.
- They believe that bias is a problem, that resulting perceptions and behaviours are not appropriate or warranted.
- And they are steadfast in the belief that they can do something about it that better reflects their intentions and values much more.
How MAD ABOUT BIAS Can Help
I am Yvonne Bowyer and I founded M.A.D About Bias to help workplaces and employees learn how to look for bias, catch it and shine a light on it. I teach the evidence based, Bias-Habit-Breaking Intervention because it works. And I’m all about being M.A.D. making a difference.
If you’re interested in hearing more about this pioneering approach, please email me.
I’m available for speaking, training and consultancy services to unleash the human capital in your organisation to help you prosper. We have programs directed at all employees, leaders and HR professionals.