Addressing Unconscious Bias: A Process vs Person Fix

Addressing Unconscious Bias: A Process vs Person Fix


An effective way to address unconscious biases inherent in our ways of working is to focus on the process apart from the person.

Addressing unconscious bias through training and sensitisation has long become a flourishing industry. More often than not, it focuses on uncovering biases through examples and scenarios, ending in takeaways or commitments to be applied day-to-day.


While unconscious bias sensitisation is a staple of any leadership development effort, its efficacy and sustainability are questionable.


A common feature of many of these interventions is that they focus on fixing people. Becoming more aware of these biases is crucial, but becoming inclusive is not a one-step event; it is a continuous journey. While attending a session or being part of a campaign does heighten our awareness, it does not transform us overnight.


A far more relevant way to address unconscious biases inherent in our ways of working is to focus on the process apart from the person. How inclusive are our processes to hire, develop, promote, recognise, and retain talent? This is an important and interesting question to answer.


More importantly, making processes inclusive is not merely about measuring outcomes (e.g. XX% of hires from a demographic segment) but also about measuring how those outcomes are achieved. There are two simple ways to assess this “how” – (i) how a process is designed and (ii) how it is delivered.


Designing a Process


How inclusive are the principles or criteria based on which the process is designed?


A useful question to ask ourselves in this regard is: To what extent are the process design principles outcome-focused vs person-focused? For example, are the criteria for selection defined around competencies relevant to a role as opposed to a minimum level of experience or educational qualification?


Does the content of the process represent different needs and segments of the population?


To what extent do we see different individuals getting highlighted in talent and succession reviews? What is the extent to which development programs cater to a variety of segments rather than high-potential employees alone?


Another crucial aspect in this is to seek inputs from those who will experience the process; whether we incorporate the voices of different personas in defining the content is an important consideration to keep in mind.


How frequently is the content updated?


How often do we update the design of a process based on new information that challenges our beliefs (e.g. the criteria for eligibility for a certain award)? This is an indicator of how frequently we update our beliefs, an essential precursor to open-mindedness. Another related indicator is how often we see different themes in the feedback being shared about certain individuals, which reflects the flexibility of our evaluations of people.


Delivering a Process


Is the process consistently communicated to all?


Transparency is the foundation of the inclusive delivery of processes. To what extent do we share information with all employees about any process to level the playing field (for example, information about a selection process or criteria for nomination to a development program)?


Moreover, to what extent can any employee question or suggest improvements to a process? This refers to platforms for constructive dissent that are accessible to all. The measure of success here needs to be the number of instances where such questioning led to new ideas or reshaped decisions.


Is the delivery of the process customised to different needs and segments of the population?


Personalisation of a process is often the differentiator that ensures that a given action is experienced in unique, more effective ways. For example, in how many cases do we recognise individuals in ways that match their preferences? How often do we tailor developmental feedback in ways that will benefit the recipient the most? Several organisations have implemented remote working or hybrid working agreements tailored to the unique context of an employee, which is a good example of customisation and personalisation.


Does the process have inbuilt checks for inclusion?


To what extent do we use data to identify inadvertent omissions from a process? For example, if we have certain criteria for promotion and recognition, which we use to review those nominated, do we apply the same criteria to others who have not been nominated to find omissions if any? This point assumes greater significance as we plan to operate in hybrid work environments where everyone may not have balanced visibility to their leaders and teams.


Embedding these points into the design and delivery of different processes helps to keep individual biases from creeping into decisions. Inclusion is a collective journey, and what will help accelerate this journey more than sessions and events is a strong underlying process framework that generates continuous anchor points for all of us.



Soniya Dabak is HR Leader for GE Aviation, India and a research scholar in Organizational Psychology. She has 11 years of experience in Human Resources with expertise in leading interventions in leadership development, employee experience, people analytics, inclusion and diversity. She is a recipient of the NHRDN and Professor Ram Charan Young HR Icon Award and People Matters and DDI Emerging HR Leader Award.


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