International Women’s Day 2021: ‘Designing a bias free organization’

This is a hot topic these days – especially in the post pandemic world, where all kinds of work-life boundaries as well as the gender of the worker have blended and blurred. If a remote worker is dedicated and can deliver, who is really worried about whether the person is a man or a woman? Having said that, though ‘inclusion’ is a goal for many organizations now, it’s a difficult target to achieve. Let’s see why…

It’s all about changing mindsets

For pure talent to shine, at all levels of organizational management, we must consciously put performance reviews and feedback, coaching, recruitment and promotions and performance reward mechanisms. But then, breaking traditionally built organizations, where the scales have been tipping in men’s favour for ages, is not easy. And yet, it can be done. One can see changes happening slowly, but surely. Having said that, designing a bias-free organization is more about changing mindsets than about drawing up management policies.

It’s not about diversity training alone

It is often seen that the minute we talk about bias, people begin to talk about diversity training. But training alone cannot change established behavioural patterns. It’s fine to have HR initiatives that can bring about gender parity at workspace. But the key is to evaluate the impact of such initiatives, document them, and keep it an ongoing process. Designing an organization, after all, is more about people management. And people management is about understanding human behaviour, and striving to mould those behaviour trends to what you want your company to reflect. So, this is a whole multi-layered management strategy in itself, and it is as important as any financial or marketing strategy. For instance, an office can be a place where gender is not an evaluation parameter for any talent scouting or rewarding mechanisms. Where performance appraisals are stripped of gender – they rate talent, dedication to work, and other leadership qualities as the top requirements.

Strip talent of gender

But then, though mindsets cannot be changed overnight, policies that can drive mindsets, can. So, a bias-free attitude is something that must start at the very core philosophy of an organization. Go for talent independent of the gender showcasing it. Men can be nurses, women can fly planes, women can be good in math and men can be talented chefs – and recruitment and talent management have to recognize this. Encourage more women in tech – statistics show that India now has 32% women going for engineering as compared to 20% in the US and 28% in the EU. We must build workplaces that focus on behavioral design that neutralizes employees biases. This will help us discover untapped talent. Recruitment tools such as Applied and Gap Jumpers allow employers to blind themselves to applicants’ demographic characteristics, software that can help talent hunters focus on talent over age, gender and demographics. In fact, it is one of the best behavior designs an organization can adopt.

Let the ones in power speak up for equality

The reality as of now, as multiple research data reveal, is that gender differences are embedded in salary, resources, awards, and job offers across the world. Plus, it’s very very hard to change mindsets, especially in India, where everyone learns to live with gender bias as a daily thing right from childhood. But again, much is changing. A recent global research on male CEOs, and men in power, showed how fathers of daughters were more sensitive to gender equality at workplace than those with only sons. These are people who can raise their voice for gender parity and advocate equality to actively help drive that change. Let’s ask top management and HRs to begin to collect organizational data, draw up and promote mindset experiments, document them, see what works, and change process to minimize the impact of biased mindsets in nurturing talent.

Designing a bias-free organization is a work in progress

Lastly, most of designing a bias-free organization is about sustained awareness building, and a constant search of solutions to surmount biased mindsets.