Unconscious Bias – It can be organizational as well as personal

A year ago, I provided a two part series on Unconscious Bias, which defined this phenomena and how to address it at the personal level. Since that time, I have developed an in depth workshop that is now being offered as part of the National Diversity Council’s training program. In addition, I am available to provide consulting and customized training on unconscious bias for clients.

But … want to know something very important? Unconscious bias, defined as “the attitudes of stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner… in ways we may not even be aware of ….” is not only personal. Organizations themselves can also have a culture of embedded unconscious bias. Often the unconscious bias of the majority in leadership or in power can then become the norm for the entire organization.

Here are some ways unconscious bias can manifest itself in an organization:

Recruiting and Hiring – it is so easy to gravitate toward people who have more common in ourselves or our organizational culture rather than skills. One example in the hiring area is bringing in engineers or lawyers overwhelmingly from one particular university.

Work Assignments – leaders can tend to give the plum assignments to people most like themselves, or could give assignment out based on stereotypical views; e.g. the single person with no children will be more dedicated to this tough project than an employee with small children.

Very often organizational unconscious bias can impact effective team work.

Team work – we may gravitate to working more closely with people like ourselves and unintentionally not draw in or listen to people who are different.

Promotions and Talent Development – we see organization unconscious bias in the way the white male senior corporate leadership seems to perpetuate boards and c-Suites that have very few women and people of color. Are diverse people given the chance to be mentored and developed in leadership? See my recent guest blog on the Importance of Minority Coaching.

Treatment and Interaction with clients – we can see this often in retail environments where people in the majority population or who are older or dressed more conservatively are given preferential treatment.

An establishment needs to handle organizational unconscious bias in the same that personal unconscious bias is handled:
1. Take the time admit that unconscious bias does exist in your organization and start to identify the ways it is manifested.
2. Put together an action plan with specifics in how to address those manifestations of organizational unconscious bias.
3. Take action, establish metrics, measure the progress, and hold leaders accountable.

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Contact me to discuss the customized unconscious bias training I can provide for your organization!  [email protected] or call me at 919-787-7315

Corporate Values Made Real! A discussion with Rho

From the minute I walked into Rho’s lobby, I could feel the positive atmosphere.

It does seem that all companies and organizations have publicly available lofty vision and values statements. These value statements are very often very inspirational and would make you want to work at or do business with these companies. But really? How many companies truly live out their values and have the corporate culture they espouse?

Recently I was at a seminar hosted at Rho, a clinical drug development and contract research services firm headquartered in Chapel Hill, NC. There was such a positive vibe about the building, from the welcoming receptionist at the front desk to the Rho employees signing us in to the Rho employees participating in the workshop. In a time when employee turnover is so high and an ever increasing number of people seem to dislike their work, this positivity was great to witness. So I decided to spend some time with Brook White, Executive Director of Communications at Rho. I really wanted to explore their documented corporate values of “living what they believe,” including integrity, quality, great people, teamwork, and more (link to the full list: http://www.rhoworld.com/rho/about/our-values)

Brook White, Rho’s Executive Director of Communications was more than happy to share about Rho’s culture and values.

STAN: I really enjoyed my visit here last month and the positive vibe that seems to prevail around your campus. What do you attribute that to?

BROOK: We know that our smart, talented people are our greatest asset, so we strive to create an environment where all of our employees can thrive. We encourage employees to maintain a healthy work-life balance—we discourage checking email after hours, encourage employees to use their vacation time, and provide benefits like a concierge service to help employees maintain that balance. We’re also doing work that matters. Our research improves health, extends life, and enhances quality of life.


STAN: In a culture where I see more dissonance between what people say and what they do, how do you succeed in “living what you believe?”

BROOK: It starts with a company’s leaders. Our Leadership Team demonstrates these values in their work and in their interactions with employees. We also make sure that from the beginning, each employee understands the importance of these values to our organization. Our co-CEOs, Dr. Laura Helms Reece and Dr. Russ Helms, have a series of three lunches with new employees to review the values, why they are important, and what that looks like in our day-to-day work.


Rho co-CEOs, Dr. Laura Helms Reece and Dr. Russ Helms, personally meet with new employees to review Rho’s values.


STAN: I’d like to explore team work a little more since often times people sabotage others or refuse to assist their coworkers in a competitive environment where people want to get the best performance rating or get ahead. How do you truly incent team work at Rho? Do you really reward those who demonstrate strong team work?

BROOK: Teamwork is something that is highly valued at Rho. Leaders set the tone by making sure their teams receive credit for accomplishments rather than taking credit for themselves. We also have a peer-to-peer award program where any employee can recognize the good work of any other person in the company. The recipient receives both a gift card and recognition on our company intranet site. We also don’t have annual performance reviews. Performance feedback is given in the moment year round, so that the focus is on helping employees grow.


STAN: How do you handle people who seem to promote their own agendas or careers and aren’t good team players?

BROOK: We reward those who demonstrate teamwork, integrity, and our other core values, and we don’t permit or reward behavior that is out of alignment with those values even if it produces results. Results are important, but it can’t be results at any cost.


STAN: Finally, do have any metrics and measurements that show that good team work and living your other values truly leads to profitability? Can you show that correlation?

BROOK: We’ve been in business for more than 30 years, and we’ve been profitable every year. Even in years when living our values has meant making difficult decisions, we’ve managed to make a profit. While we don’t keep those specific metrics, our profitability year after year does show that a business can be successful and do the right thing. It’s not one or the other.


STAN: Thank you Brook. In closing, is there anything else you would like to share about Rho?

BROOK: On a personal note, this month marks my tenth anniversary at Rho. It has been a privilege to work alongside such a wonderful group of people and to work for an organization that actively demonstrates the values it espouses.

STAN: Thank you, Brook for spending this time with me and I wish you and Rho the very best in the future.

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Photos courtesy of Rho’s Corporate Communications