September 12, 2022

Are workplace biases holding your organization back?

Typically, when discussing bias in the workplace, one almost automatically thinks about discriminatory bias, or the kind of bias that targets certain people or specific groups of people. But there are more insidious types of biases that are present in the workplace, especially when it comes to hiring. Unless addressed head on, these biases can be just as harmful as discrimination. Below, we discuss a few common biases and how they can impact both companies and their job candidates or employees who have a military background

Status Quo Bias
Status Quo Bias can be overt or insidious; but it’s usually pretty insidious simply because it’s more difficult to uncover and identify than discrimination. Status quo bias is the bias that makes us repeat the same habits, with the same outlook, over and over again. It represents fear of change; and in some cases, actual inertia. Doing the same thing in the same way is almost always less challenging than creating change, and it takes a conscious effort to decide to create change and follow through with it.

Hence, in the context of conducting searches for new talent, questions that an organization should be asking itself include: Is status quo bias holding us back from actively sourcing military talent? Is the fear of trying something new holding us back from updating our status quo talent strategy? Are the people sourcing talent for our team worried about being blamed for bad decision making if they actively source military talent and it’s not an instant success?

• Inertia is a problem for all of us. It takes action to change, and we need to recognize the need to take action in order to break through status quo bias
• We’re pretty hardwired to fear change and to resist pivots that may engender a loss; and as a result, we fear losses more than we seek gains
• Inertia can be hard to shake – even if it’s leaving us dangerously stuck in the same place
• But the people who are most attracted to change – or are at least open to change – are the most likely to thrive in challenging times requiring adaptability  

What do you do on autopilot that you could consider disrupting? Is the status quo of the types of talent your organization normally sources limiting the candidate pool for some of the most important company roles? Could opening the pool to those with a military background help mitigate company talent shortages?

Prove It Again Bias
Prove it Again Bias can surface when you’re interviewing a veteran job candidate or working on a team with anyone who has less traditional experience in their role. Is your teammate performing well but being promoted more slowly or given less critical projects because there’s an underlying uncertainty they’re actually capable in the role?

When you willingly give someone a chance but don’t afford them the same opportunities to be successful or to advance because you don’t trust their prior experience, you’re asking them to “prove it again:” to prove again that they’re trustworthy, or capable of getting the job done, or deserving of being promoted to the next level – simply because their background doesn’t resemble the backgrounds of others in the role.

People who aren’t members of protected classes may run into prove it again bias in the workplace more than others, as this kind of bias is hard to demonstrate, document, and prove for anyone – and hence even more so for those who would have a difficult time proving workplace discrimination. Employees with military backgrounds may look and sound just like everyone else, and yet may be forced to re-prove their competencies in any event because their experience is so non-traditional.

Organizations should be asking themselves, “What are our criteria for hiring, rewarding, and promoting, and do we make certain kinds of employees prove their mastery more than others just because their backgrounds are less typical?” If the answer to any part of this requires certain employees to “prove it again,” it’s probably a good idea to revisit company hiring, reward, and promotion policies.  

Confirmation Bias
Confirmation Bias is the bias that confirms a belief that was faulty in the first place. It shows up in almost area of life, because we have a tendency, whether wittingly or unwittingly, to seek out confirmation for our beliefs – whether or not they are justified. And by the same token, we have a tendency to filter out or ignore information that disconfirms our beliefs, which just strengthens our beliefs even more.

There are many examples of confirmation bias in the workplace; but because we’re trying to demonstrate how status quo bias, prove it again bias, and confirmation bias all work together, let’s mention the case of the veteran who makes one mistake on the job – a mistake any individual could have made – and then the company decides to never hire an individual with a military background again, because the mistake confirms the belief that military experience just isn’t valid experience.

The status quo would have been to not hire the person at all, but they were given a chance. Prove it again bias may have put them in a situation in which they needed to re-prove their competency. And then they made a mistake that anyone could have made – but because they are a veteran, confirmation bias leads to the conclusion that the organization should simply not hire veterans. The company-internal conversation becomes, “You see – we should never have hired a person with this kind of non-traditional background at all; let’s not do it again.” And that’s just confirmation of the (faulty) belief that veterans are less desirable employees – because, in fact, that’s really what the organization believed all along.

All these biases prevent organizations from becoming what they truly could. More self-awareness in recruitment, reward, and retention processes benefits companies; it never hurts them. The filters you’re using right now might not be working for you as well as you may think, and they might just be preventing you from becoming the success you want to be in five to ten years. Finding the best talent to fill your organizational gaps and figuring out the best strategies for retention may require some aggressive rethinking of organizational habits; but in the long run it may lead to greater growth and better organizational execution.

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