Biases Exist - Being Aware Opens The Door For Management







Richard Chapman Harris, Diversity Advisor - Race for Opportunity blogs on a recently attended event at the British Psychological Society


Title of event: Launch for the Journal of Organisational and Occupational Psychology Special Issue:
Topic: Getting Diversity at Work
Main speakers: Yves Guillame, Aston Business School, Jeremy Dawson, University of Sheffield
Date: June 7th 2013

Effectively engaging with all members of the workplace, capitalising on their diversity, and improving overall engagement and productivity is a task for everyone. It is not an HR issue but a common or golden thread that runs through everything. As such it was useful to network in a new field and engage with Occupational Psychologists exploring diversity from an academic angle.

One key learning from the work undertaken by the academics at the British Psychological Society’s Diversity Working Group was around the use of language. As Diversity practitioners - the majority of attendees - we are often guilty of describing diversity characteristics as ‘Issues;’ gender issues, race issue, issues of sexual orientation. However, the language used by speakers here was more of ‘attributes.’ People were described as having differing attributes and these differences were framed positively as strengths, hence reinforcing the value of diversity. Similarly, individuals who may categorise themselves as belonging to more than one particular group were described as experiencing ‘intersectionality,’ a slight adaptation to prior descriptors of ‘transgressive’ groups. Or even ‘pan-strand,’ referring to the seven strands of diversity, prior to the Equality Act and subsequent nine protected characteristics.

For me the language had advanced and I felt the terminology was academic but inclusive. However, there was one key area where I felt the language was colder and even unappealing. This was in reference to the prejudices we all have but are not conscious of. Several organisations, including Opportunity Now and Race for Opportunity, refer to this as ‘Unconscious Bias’ – indeed we even had our symposium just last week on the topic! A study carried out by Luksyte et al (2013) described these ‘meta-perceptions’ as ‘aversive racism’ when looking at lateness to work and the disproportionate impact on ethnicity. Ethnic minorities, in the US study, were detrimented in their career progression as prejudices were rationalised by perceptions of lateness. This correlation is indeed worrying and although no organisations would accept racism, or indeed fund any training with racism in the title – biases exist, and once we are aware of them we can manage them more effectively; if we are conscious of bias we can move towards removing this ignorance. But certain language is likely to gain a better response as many companies deliver unconscious bias training to staff and management – especially recruiters – whereas very few are likely to have a large take up on aversive racism courses.

Overall the event was interesting and helped identify areas of research which can help throw light on diversity and inclusion from a different angle, helping us to see the outline of the opportunities in another way.

Learn more about the British Psychological Society on their website