Be Conscious of Your Bias

Author: Avis Yates Rivers (Follow on Twitter: @SitWithAvis)

lalaLast month I shared what some leading companies are doing to combat unconscious bias in the workplace. This month, I will do a deeper dive into why that’s important and why it matters.

Quite simply, unconscious bias negatively impacts an organization’s financial results. According to several studies, diversity benefits innovation and the bottom line in the following ways:

  • Increased sales revenue, more customers, bigger market share
  • Higher-than-average profitability
  • Greater return on equity and return to shareholders
  • Greater potential for creativity, sharing of knowledge, task fulfillment

In addition, groups with greater diversity solve complex problems better and faster than homogenous groups.

Several researchers set out to measure the collective intelligence of a group; they wanted to know if it could be explained by the intelligence levels of group members or not. They were surprised to find that one of the key predictors of a group’s intelligence level was the number of women on the team; the more women on the team, the more the team’s collective intelligence rose, up to a certain point. Individual intelligence of group members was not a predictor of collective intelligence.

This is an interesting finding because it absolutely counters the “rock star” approach to hiring. We all love the stories of a brilliant loner or a couple of guys dreaming up a tech company in somebody’s garage, but the fact remains that the vast majority of technology is developed by multiple people as part of a team. So whether you’re hoping to be acquired or doing the acquiring, it’s smarter to build good teams than look for the one brilliant standout.

In fact, according to Dow Jones Venture Source, analysis of more than 20,000 venture-backed companies showed that successful startups have twice as many women in senior positions as unsuccessful companies.

Diversity also helps companies to grow. Tech companies led by women delivered higher revenues using less capital (30-50% less), and were more likely to survive the transition from startup to established business. It has also been found that women led companies deliver higher revenues using less capital.

So, when we cut to the chase, we know that:

  • Minority Groups Aren’t Broken
  • Majority Groups Aren’t The Enemy
  • The Culprit = Societal Biases We All Share

Society is biased about gender and technology. Period. There are things we can do, and lots of things we shouldn’t do.

Things we should do include:

  • Become a male advocate and inspire other men to do likewise
  • Audit your physical office space for implicit biases
  • Assure inclusive team meetings and social events
  • Examine performance reviews for unconscious bias
  • Remove biased language from job descriptions and job postings
  • Evaluate interview questions and include diversity in the interview process
  • Engage in unconscious bias training for all managers and supervisors

Some things Not to do include:

  • Don’t lower your hiring standards, just make sure you are hiring for the things that matter
  • Don’t slap a boilerplate diversity statement on your job ads
  • Don’t form development teams with just one diverse engineer
  • Don’t keep looking for diverse candidates in the same places you’ve always recruited
  • Don’t depend on underrepresented employeesto advance your diversity goals

And most importantly: Don’t give up; this is a long distance race, not a sprint!

Unconscious bias in the workplace (2)

Author: Avis Yates Rivers (Follow on Twitter: @SitWithAvis)

biasLast month I explained in detail what unconscious bias is and why it matters. This month, I’ll deal with how unconscious bias (or micro inequities) disproportionately affect women and people of color in the workplace. I’ll also explore what some companies are doing to combat this phenomenon.

If you didn’t read last month’s blog, I encourage you to do so before reading this one. It really lays the foundation and explains what unconscious bias is and why it is important to recognize and deal with it.

Certainly women have made inroads in corporate America, but a Pew Research Center survey released recently points at why women struggle to climb to the corporate world’s highest ranks—and often tone down their ideas, hide behind an agreeable façade, or leave the workplace altogether.

In fact, studies show that technical women leave the workplace at middle management 56% of the time. That’s twice the quit rate of men. The reasons most stated for leaving include an unwelcome environment or bad supervisor relationship.

Four out of 10 surveyed in the Pew study said that there are double standards for women seeking the highest levels of leadership in politics or business. They added that women have to outshine their male counterparts—and more than one-third of respondents believe the electorate and corporate America are not ready to put more women in top leadership positions.

Why is that?

Quite simply, as a result of a lifetime of absorbing the same images and representations, men are more likely, on television and elsewhere, to be seen in the workplace. It affects the way men see women and the way women see themselves. It’s not just men but women too who have ingrained expectations of workplace roles.

When you look at the representations of African Americans or Hispanics in leadership roles, the numbers are even more distorted; in fact, they are woeful! It is just in the most recent television season that we have more than one prime time television show or series that stars an African American or Hispanic in the leading role.

Consequently, women and people of color are not seen in roles of leadership – either in the media or in the workplace. As such, a bias is established in the minds of hiring managers that prevents them from selecting qualified female or minority candidates to fill certain roles.

The first step to solving this problem is recognizing that it exists and that it robs the organization of creativity and productivity. That recognition begins at the top as demonstrated by several corporate leaders of late. Here’s how they are choosing to solve the problem of unconscious bias in their companies:

One simple thing some companies are doing to eliminate the potential for bias to creep into their hiring practice is to strip resumes of names and other identifying information and just assign each resume a number.

Roche Diagnostics, a subsidiary of pharmaceutical giant Roche Group, is aiming to make its managers more aware of unconscious bias. It held two bias acquaintance sessions with its senior and middle managers in recent months as well as a third at its national sales meeting this past January.

According to Bridget Boyle, VP of HR at Roche Diagnostics, in addition to ongoing training to highlight unconscious bias, the company broadened its recruitment and promotion policies in 2013. More than half of its lower level employees were women but their presence began to thin in middle management.

To spark change, the company instituted a mentor policy that paired 150 sets of employees over 18 months. It’s also strengthening maternity and paternity benefits and assuring diverse slates of candidates for the 750-800 openings it fills each year.

Royal Bank of Canada started an effort in May 2013 to raise awareness of bias among its 78,000 employees worldwide. Dr. Mahzarin Banaji, a Harvard University social ethics professor who co-authored Blind Spot: The Hidden Biases of Good People, has held sessions for about 1,000 of RBC’s executives to help alert them of their biases.

In addition to these meetings, employees have access to tests developed by Harvard to assess their unconscious biases and apply their personal findings in workshops. These sessions, says Norma Tombari, RBC’s director of global diversity, are continuing in 2015 as part of the company’s “entire talent management decision-making.”

Intel’s CEO, Brian Krzanich, announced at the most recent Consumer Electronics Show that he was committing $300 million to ensure his workforce achieves ‘full representation’ by 2020. This is a bold move not seen before in diversity initiatives, and he has put himself and Intel out front in terms of public accountability.

To be sure, their strategy needs to address a myriad of complex issues, but I applaud Mr. Krzanich for his bold leadership.

These and other bold moves are what is needed to improve the situation. Despite such concerted efforts, change won’t be sudden, however. It has taken years to get conditioned this way. It’s a learning process that has to be diligently undone over a period of time.

The good news is that companies have finally begun to recognize and acknowledge they have a problem. As we all know, that’s the first and most crucial step to achieving a change in behavior.

Read more about our #TNC15 keynote speakers

The TNC15 conference programme is available on the TNC15 website and the keynote speakers are confirmed.

Six high-profile speakers will address hot topics in the realm of research and education networking:

    • John Day (Boston University, USA) will challenge our thinking about the engineering and design choices that were made in the early days of the Internet in the light of today’s Internet. In the opening plenary session he will issue a call to arms to adopt a new paradigm for Internet communications.
    • Manfred Laubichler (Arizona State University, USA) will show how hotspots of scientific activity can be detected by analysing large networks of collaboration over time. To effectively pursue this kind of interdisciplinary research requires developing a novel type of research system for data-driven computational approaches at the intersection of science, history of science and science policy.
    • Sarah Kenderdine (University of New South Wales, Australia) will elaborate on the challenges of using digital media in the research, preservation, management, interpretation, and representation of cultural heritage. She will examine the relationship between material and digital objects; the implications of digital technology for knowledge creation, documentation, and the concept of authority; and the possibilities for ‘virtual cultural heritage’ – the preservation and interpretation of cultural and natural heritage through real-time, immersive, and interactive techniques.
    • Timo Lüge (Social Media For Good) will discuss ‘Disaster response in a connected world’. The increased availability of mobile Internet access around the world is changing lives and relationships, and has a significant impact on how information flows in the case of natural disasters. His keynote speech addresses how this changes the way we have to think about disaster response and how disaster responders interact with the affected people.
    • Avis Yates Rivers (Technology Concepts Group Intl.) will talk about how unconscious bias works, how to spot it, and what to do about it. He will give lots of reasons why we want and need a diverse workforce.
    • João Paulo Cunha (University of Porto) will address the topic ‘smart cities’, taking the TNC15 host city Porto as an example where the local authority and city institutions have collaborated to create a Future Internet (FI) living lab at a city scale. He will present the concept, the current status and the future of this living lab, discussing new trends and FI services envisioned by the multidisciplinary multi-institutional project team.

‘Connected Communities’

The conference theme ‘Connected Communities’ reflects the complex situation NRENs (national research and education network organisations) find themselves in today. They are at an exciting crossroads in society. Not only do they provide the basic network infrastructure on which big science and big data build, but they also address the requirements of ever-increasing and more diverse communities of Internet end users in the wider research and education areas. Many questions remain unanswered in a time when privacy and security are not a given.

TNC15 captures the current debate with the conference theme ‘Connected Communities’. The conference provides a full programme in which a wide variety of other hot topics in research and education networking will be discussed, including future education models, advanced networking infrastructures, and federation and middleware.

Sponsors, exhibitors and demonstrations

If you would like to become a sponsoring partner / exhibitor of TNC15, or would like to demonstrate at the event, please contact the conference organiser, Gyöngyi Horváth, at

Community Awards

During TNC15, we’ll reward people who have made a significant contribution to the research and education networking community with our yearly Community Awards. You can still submit your nominations! Visit the news page for more information.

Further information

TNC15 is organised by GÉANT Association and hosted by FCT-FCCN, Portugal’s unit for the operation of the National Research and Education Network within the funding agency for science and research in Portugal, between 15-18 June 2015 in Porto. All information, including the full conference schedule can be found on the TNC15 website.