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Creating a More Inclusive Workplace: Addressing Biases

This is the second in a series of articles focused on practical strategies to create more inclusive workspaces. Find the first article on open communication here. This article is focused on mitigating the impact of biases in decision-making.

Biases impact all aspects of employment and present a significant barrier to creating more inclusive workplaces. While eliminating biases may not be a realistic goal, we can work toward mitigating their impact through ongoing training and other bias disrupters.

In the context of the video below, we will explore ways to intervene when colleagues make biased comments and we will provide practical strategies for disrupting biases going forward.

"Right Fit?"

What are the concerns?

In the video each of the individuals, while discussing options for staffing a project, made statements that reflect their potential personal biases. They made several gender-based comments, including that one female employee may be too “timid” while another woman was too aggressive and attractive. In contrast, when discussing the male prospect, they talked about him in terms of his qualifications and experience, as opposed to his perceived personality traits and physical attributes.   

There are many studies supporting the existence of this type of gender bias in the evaluation of female employees, including in performance appraisals and hiring.[1] One study conducted by Fortune magazine analyzed the language used to rate employees in performance evaluations at different companies. The study found that 87.9 percent of females received critical feedback (including comments about their personality, such as they were too “abrasive”) whereas only 58.9 percent of the male employees received similar feedback.

As one researcher, Alison Wynn, explained, “when you’re evaluating someone, you are not just documenting their behavior, as if you’re some kind of computer. . . You are interpreting their actions, and there’s a question about whether there’s bias in what you notice, what you remember, and how you categorize someone’s behavior—how you are, in essence, viewing their behavior.”[2]

Our words are powerful and often reflect, albeit unintentionally at times, our personal biases. The next question is what can we do about it?

How to intervene in the moment:

  • Invite the person making the comment the opportunity to pause and reflect on their comments.
  • Challenge them by asking for clarification as to what they intended by their comments. Ask them directly, for example: “What did you mean when you said that Jenn was ‘the other extreme?’ What does that mean to you? Why is it relevant?”
  • Ask for objective justification for their reasoning. For example, ask the specific reasons Ashley would not be right for the project and have them explain why being timid would preclude Ashley from succeeding. Or, counter with examples of how being “timid” could be considered a positive attribute for the project.
  • Help the decision-maker recognize the implications of their comments and the difference in how they evaluated the male candidate (qualifications and experience) as compared to the female candidates (personal traits and physical attributes). For example, you could ask them: “Help me understand the reasons your feedback on Ashley is focused on a personality trait and how that relates to the project?” You could further probe and ask them to share information with you related to her past experience and point out that it is important to compare them each based on the same criteria.

How to continue to address the impact of biases moving forward:

  • Train managers on how to recognize their own biases, the different ways biases manifest in the workplace, and how to intervene when others make inappropriate or biased comments.
  • Identify the problem. Evaluate current practices, including how work projects are assigned, to determine where there may be opportunities to create more objective criteria for decision-making and mitigating the impact of biases.
  • Critically review past decisions and ask the difficult questions: Who is being consistently selected? Who is being overlooked? What are the reasons? What patterns may emerge?
  •  Analyze the results and take meaningful action to address the issues.

Implementing these changes takes consistent effort and work but can lead to greater inclusivity and ultimately, to build a more respectful organization.

[1] See, Solis-Moreira, Jocelyn, Study finds women are judged against more criteria than men are in job interviews (August 2020),, for a discussion of different gender-based bias studies.

[2] See, Nittle, Nadra, The Language of Gender Bias in Performance Reviews, (April 2021),