The C-Suite's Bias: Addressing The Imbalances of Corporate America
Gender bias. Age discrimination. Lack of diversity. Corporate America is inundated with stereotypes, but what matters most is whether businesses utilize them to make decisions.
The world has been focused primarily on the gender gap when it comes to diversity in the workplace — and for good reason. The truth is, numerous other elements need to be addressed. While seeing women in CEO roles is vital, more must be accomplished to diversify the boardroom.
Most businesses take a cookie-cutter approach to diversity efforts and focus almost exclusively on gender, and racial gaps, possibly because these are easier to be quantified. Unfortunately, while these gaps may be easier to track, they do not demonstrate an accurate picture of the workforce.
To address this critical issue head-on, the C-suite must look beyond the two standard diversity measurements (i.e., gender and race). Instead, they must consider areas where minorities with disabilities, seniors, veterans, and single parents have difficulty climbing the ladder or are entirely excluded from consideration due to myths about 'ideal' candidates.
A recent article in Forbes Magazine highlights that while women now make up more than 50% of the workforce, only 8.2% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. Furthermore, in the history of that same list, there have only been 19 Black CEOs out of 1,800 chiefs. In this piece, we’ll discuss unconscious bias in Corporate America and how to keep it in check.
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The Unconscious & Confirmation Bias
Unconscious biases are a widespread and significant matter in the corporate world. They are typically intuitive or unconscious beliefs that occur outside one’s conscious awareness and control. In one way or another, every single human is guilty of having biases based on a person’s age, gender, race, religion, physical appearance, class, and other demographic details.
Confirmation bias is the underlying tendency to search for and focus on elements that give greater credence to one’s unconscious bias. Like gas on a fire, confirmation biases only fuel the harmful effects of unconscious bias.
These biases affect thought processes and decision-making, and they're often based on stereotypes developed from long-held notions and cultural norms, which can lead to discrimination. Unconscious and confirmation bias is an issue at all levels of a company, but it's particularly prevalent at the top.
Training Is Standard; Invest In The Experts
Using training programs to address bias in corporate hiring and promotion practices is important because it gives everyone the tools they need to be aware of their unconscious biases.
However, while these platforms are essential, they’re considered a bare-minimum standard and can actually create more harm than good if not addressed appropriately with the right council.
Studies show that, despite decades of diversity training and affirmative action, unconscious bias still pervades the subconscious of many in positions of power. This is why investing in the experts is fundamental. Now is not the time to be under-resourced in this department.
When individuals go through DEI or discrimination training, it can create a wall in communication and transparency within the company. Those who don’t score the highest may leave thinking they are unconsciously racist, sexist, ableist, or ageist. Training without professional context and consulting may cause people to shy away from having authentic and open conversations due to an inner fear that they may say something wrong.
A third-party expert or consultant in diversity, equity, and inclusion is a priority in today’s workforce. These professionals are equipped with the resources and knowledge needed to address these issues in the C-Suite aptly.
Enforce Ground Rules
When working in a group setting, it’s essential to set boardroom-wide ground rules that discourage behavior that manifests due to unconscious bias. In addition, there should be a zero-tolerance policy against poor manners, such as disrespect, disregard, or arrogance. For example, consider the following ground rules:
- Do not interrupt one another during conferences
- Do not pass judgment on what colleagues may share about themselves
- Remain impartial during discussions
- Be a good listener
Encourage Candid Conversations
When individuals are candid and open with their thoughts and feelings, it can mitigate the toxic effects of biases. In addition, creating a dialogue about how people with backgrounds experience different environments can foster a constructive and candid culture within the C-suite.
The workforce is typically where most people are exposed to individuals of varying cultures, ethnicities, and races. These authentic conversations are the most beneficial way to understand what others feel on a personal level.
To help close these gaps, Fortune 500 companies can implement policies to address unconscious bias and open up honest conversations about differences between cultures and backgrounds.
Corporate America is a truly global economy, but the C-Suite remains predominantly white and male. Until we correct these imbalances, we run the risk of depriving our workforce and our companies of their potential to represent all voices in society.