workplace bias

We might be biased, but when it comes to talking about bias in the workplace, Sheila Quinn is the right person to ask. In the 2000s, Sheila headed up diversity initiatives for Accenture in the U.S., Canada, and Latin America as well as PwC’s Chicago office. Today, Sheila is an HR Business Development Director (BDD) at Salo.

I spent a large part of my career focusing on bias in the workplace and there’s one thing I know: We all have biases.

Yep. That includes you, and it includes me. It’s human nature. We’re hardwired to fear things that are unfamiliar or different. It’s part of the fight or flight instinct. In prehistoric times, it was probably a super helpful trait. But, in the modern workplace? Not so much.

So, what can do we do about it? We interrupt it. Here’s how.

10 ways to interrupt bias

1. Encourage mindfulness and action

Thankfully, most people aren’t intentionally biased. However, since everyone has biases, we need to help people recognize them and manage them with tools and training. Mindfulness training and a focus on emotional intelligence is a good place to start.

2. Sell the business benefits

Interrupting bias isn’t just the “right” thing to do, it’s also a huge win for your organization. Eliminating bias helps you get the best out of everyone on the team—helping all employees stay engaged and work together effectively. Additionally, the costs of not being inclusive and equitable are high. Bias in the workplace makes people less productive, less innovative, and less satisfied on the job. So, make sure business leaders (and employees) understand the benefits.

workplace bias

3. Increase access to diverse people and ideas

Make the unfamiliar familiar by creating opportunities to interact with diverse talent—from insisting on diverse hiring pools to partnering with diverse associations such as NABA (National Association of Black Accountants) or ALPFA (Association of Latino Professionals for America). Not only does your team learn about the benefits of diversity; they also get access to top talent they wouldn’t have met otherwise.

4. Make hiring/advancement processes transparent and consistent

When you’re hiring or promoting talent, spend some time clarifying the performance criteria for the role and communicate the criteria to all candidates in the same way. When interviewing or evaluating candidates, be consistent. Ask the same questions, so you can compare candidates in an inclusive, equitable way—giving each candidate a fair shot. Then, make decisions based on your criteria.

5. Focus on culture add (instead of culture fit)   

When you’re looking for new talent, you want someone who’ll thrive in your culture. But, to do that you need to think about what makes your culture unique—such as shared values or work styles. You also need to think about valuable traits your culture needs. Instead of looking for people just like your current team, look for people who share your core values AND can add something new to the organization. Think culture add, not culture fit.

6. Encourage all team members to contribute

Leaders often have go-to people they rely on. That’s great for the go-to people but makes it tough for everyone else. Train (and incentivize) leaders to: 

  • Make a point to get input from everyone—especially people who may not normally speak up.  
  • Spread out high-value opportunities—rotating visible, valuable assignments among the team.  
  • Foster diverse thinking and look for ways to elevate people with different perspectives.

7. Nurture soft skills

Organizations that cultivate soft skills—like being open to feedback, observing others, communicating effectively, and emphasizing teamwork—have a leg up on the diversity front. For example, it’s important for employees to feel safe calling each other out for non-supportive behaviors, from microaggressions to more challenging situations. Soft skills can help employees address the situation in a respectful, constructive way.  

workplace bias

8. Create metrics around diversity

You can’t manage what you can’t measure, so start measuring diversity-related factors. For example, if the metrics show minorities aren’t getting promoted, there’s probably bias in the process. Sometimes, it helps to let the numbers do the talking.

9. Be prepared for some resistance

Not everyone is going to be on board with diversity. Be ready to help some people breakdown their fears by asking questions like, “What kind of leader do you want to be?” or “Why do you think you react this way?” can help people become more self-aware and accepting.  

10. Call out the value of DEI work regularly

Leadership needs to consistently make it clear why diversity and diversity initiatives are important to your organization. And, do it regularly. Diversity should not be a one-time training activity. It should be mentioned regularly and get the same level of attention as any other mission-critical work.  

workplace bias

Just like every person has biases, every workplace has work to do around diversity, equity, and inclusion. Here at Salo, we’ve made great strides in our diversity initiatives, but we’re constantly trying to get better. If people and organizations keep putting in the effort, the result will benefit us all.


At Salo, we match senior HR, finance, and accounting experts with organizations that need their help (on a contingent, project, or permanent basis). If you need help on a diversity project, or any other HR need, contact us to learn more

Sheila Quinn headshot

Sheila Quinn

Salo BDD

Chicago

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