Beyond biases


Every time I go to a campus to speak to students about my profession and what it takes to be successful in it, I always get asked questions about employer biases.

Do we favor graduates who come from Manila or from certain top universities? Do we have a bias for those who speak English well? I have always found myself replying with a quick retort, saying that we carefully guard ourselves from such biases so we can get the right talent for our organization.

The business case for diversity and inclusion

Millennials who were born between 1980 and 1995, like many who have asked me about my hiring preferences, comprise more than 80 percent of my organization’s workforce.

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) recently conducted a study covering 10,105 millennials across 75 countries, including the Philippines. Eighty-six (86) percent of the female and 74 percent of male millennials surveyed identified an employer’s policy on diversity, equality and work inclusion as important when deciding whether or not to work for an employer. This supports a strong business case for diversity and inclusion in our workplace.

To attract and retain talent, however, diversity and inclusion have to go beyond balancing people demographics like gender, religion, race and age. We need to create an inclusive work environment where people feel that they can be appreciated for being themselves and get opportunities to advance without being hindered by non-inclusive practices and ways of thinking as those brought about by unconscious biases.

What is bias anyway? Is it wrong to have my own biases?

Our mind naturally forms biases as it processes tons of information that come its way. It is part of how we naturally think and live. It enables us to make quick decisions, many of which are basic for survival. Fire and smoke tell you to flee from danger. The color red tells you to stop and green tells you to go.

As we go through life, we associate certain things together that eventually form our biases. I know of people who think those who speak English well are smart; someone who is fair-skinned is probably rich; gay people are best at doing creative work; those who wear business suits can be trusted; and millennials have a problem being loyal to their employers. However, I have learned from experience that this is not always the case.

When it comes to knowing people, there is usually more than meets the eye.

Research tells us that our impression or judgment of others is usually formed within 30 seconds of meeting them. Upon forming our opinion, our mind is more likely to collect information that reinforces our earlier perception. If we let our biases drive decisions in attracting, developing and retaining talent, we are likely to end up with a relatively homogenous talent pool—one that may not be enough to enable our organization to survive, much less thrive in a very competitive environment.

It’s a good thing that our first impressions of people can still change and the accuracy of our views increases as we spend more time getting to know them. There are steps we can take to be more aware of our unconscious biases. We can also behave in ways that help encourage inclusion when we interact with others.

What can we do to be aware of our biases and foster an inclusive work environment?

Let me share a few points that I have learned from PwC and from my personal experiences:

• When soliciting points of view, check that all parties are represented. Look across demographic cuts in your organization that may be relevant like job grades, age, gender and business units.

• Set the ground rules for meetings and see to it that everyone is invited to share his point of view.

• When someone brings up a new idea, instead of saying “no,” ask “why,” then “why not?” While an idea may not sound good to you at first, something better may come up or your view may change after you’ve discussed it.

• When talking to your team, make eye contact with everyone. Don’t just focus on the same people.

• When choosing people for a role or evaluating them for promotion, we are more likely to gravitate toward people who are similar to us. It would be good to remind yourself of the assessment criteria and use this as a framework in making a decision.

• Check your social circle at work. Whom do you usually interact with? Are there specific individuals or groups in the office that you have not reached out to or have tried to get to know? Why not spend time getting to know them? You may be surprised with what you can learn from them.

• When asking questions, avoid ones that may come across as culturally offensive or insensitive.

• Stop and reflect on which people have been benefiting from the opportunities you provide (e.g., making introductions, new projects, training). Do you usually pick the same people? Make a plan to consciously distribute the opportunities among your team members.

• If you are working with someone new, do not perceive his competence based on feedback that you might have heard from others. Focus on forming your view of his performance solely on your experience working with him.

• When giving people a performance feedback or assessing candidates for employment, do not rely too much on your memory. Give your evaluation and comments right after or close to the date of the event. Some important facts get left out of memory the longer you delay your feedback.

• If you work with someone who is physically different from you, be openly friendly and take the opportunity to spend time to get to know him more.

• Some of our biases come to the fore of our consciousness, but others remain unknown to us. Try taking tests to see what unconscious inclinations you may have. Such tests could be accessible to your organization or through online resources. Being aware of your biases allows you catch yourself, especially when making an important decision.

We will continue to live with our biases. What matters is that we are conscious of them and behave deliberately in ways that counter their non-inclusive effects.

Building inclusive teams and organizations takes time as people also take time to change. It takes willpower and a conscious effort on the part of individuals to behave more inclusively. Organizations need to set up systems and processes that make people aware and encourage open minds. Also, without the right levels of leadership commitment and accountability, it will prove very challenging to move the needle on diversity and inclusion in a sustainable way.

Now more than ever, organizations play an important role in forming and developing their people. A worker would typically spend at least half of his waking hours in a work environment. When this environment is where people can be their true selves, able to share their unique perspectives while knowing that their contributions are valued, they are more likely to succeed.

Beyond achieving operational targets, companies that promote diversity and inclusion fulfill an even bigger purpose—one that contributes to forming future leaders, who will achieve more and bring about more positive change in our country and the world. So embracing diversity and inclusion is not only a critical business imperative—it is the right thing to do. Full stop.

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Emyde Guzman-Castro is a partner from Assurance and Human Capital Lead of Isla Lipana& Co./PwC Philippines. Email your comments and questions to This content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors.



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