By Rob Starr, Big4.com Content Manager.
Howard Ross recently took the time to talk with Big4.com about how unconscious bias affects performance reviews for women looking to climb the corporate ladder. This is the second part of a two part interview.
The use of coded performance reviews can often be another obstacle for women where numbers are used for evaluation purposes since this method is particularly susceptible to unconscious bias.
Of course there are other assumptions mixed in whereby a woman with children has her allegiance to her position questioned whereas a father in an executive position is viewed as an asset to the organization.
These societal assumptions are a doubled-edged sword when the effect they have on women is considered. Ross points out that on the surface or conscious level, women tend to be more open to other women getting equal treatment in the workplace than men.
“However, when we study this on an unconscious level the differences almost disappear,” he says referencing a 2012 Yale study that found women scientists and by proxy other professionals, suffered from some of the same unconscious bias as men.
This Confidence Gap points to a phenomenon whereby women can be less likely to see their own worth because of the negative bias they’ve been exposed to and internalized.
So the question becomes what can be done in working against these obstacles and any understanding needs to start from the premise that no one is exempt from bias.
Not surprisingly, education is one of the first steps to being aware of and changing the negative implications for performance reviews. Knowing and understanding the actual mechanisms involved in triggering certain perceptions and how they work in the brain is a part of this foundational pillar.
Priming behaviors are the second tool. These are quick self analysis exercises whereby you can make yourself aware of any bias you have about the people and situations you’ll be encountering before you go into a performance review.
“You can prepare yourself mentally,” says Ross, “to be aware of your bias and the way you communicate.”
Structures and Systems
The third step centers around looking at structures and systems and how changing these can in effect do their part to negate bias. This involves looking at different factors like the techniques and number of people and genders working on performance reviews. Accountability is the last factor whereby everyone involved needs to be looking for any of the red flags that account for bias on a constant basis.
“Changing the emotional tenor with which we do this bias work is really important,” Ross says. “So much of the diversity work that we’ve done has occurred within the good person/bad person paradigm. We need to change it and recognize this is something we all do.”