Trying to eliminate bias in your business? You need to think strategically. 

Everyone has their own prejudices. It’s human nature to fear things that are unfamiliar or different—part of the fight-or-flight instinct. In prehistoric times, bias was doubtless a helpful trait. But in the modern workplace, it hinders rather than helps. 

When it comes to discussing bias in the workplace, Sheila Quinn is an authority. She worked as a strategic HR and operations leader for 30 years prior to joining Korn Ferry as Business Development Director. Her experience in professional services is rivaled only by her passion for strategic workforce planning. Below, she shares 10 strategies for heading off harmful bias. 

1 Encourage action 

Most people aren’t intentionally biased, so they need help recognizing and managing their actions. Awareness training is a good place to start when addressing personal bias, with a focus on emotional intelligence

2 Sell the business benefits 

Interrupting bias isn’t just the “right” thing to do. It’s also a huge win for your organization.  

Eliminating bias helps you get the best out of everyone on the team, allowing employees to stay engaged and work together effectively. Additionally, the costs of not being inclusive and equitable are high.  

Bias in the workplace makes people less productive, less innovative and less satisfied, so making sure business leaders (and employees) understand the benefits is key. “Organizations that cultivate soft skills—such as being open to feedback, observing others, communicating effectively, and emphasizing teamwork—have a leg up on the diversity front,” says Quinn. 

3 Increase access to diverse people and ideas 

Creating opportunities to interact with diverse talent makes the unfamiliar familiar, says Quinn. Not only will your team members learn about the benefits of diversity, but they will also have access to top talent they wouldn’t have met otherwise. Diverse hiring pools should be a given, as well as partnering with diverse associations.  

4 Make the hiring/advancement process transparent and consistent 

When hiring or promoting talent, it helps to spend time clarifying the performance criteria for each role and communicating the criteria to all candidates in the same way, making decisions based on those criteria.  

Consistency is also important when interviewing or evaluating candidates. They should all be asked the same questions, so they can be compared in an inclusive, equitable way.  

5 Focus on culture benefit instead of culture fit 

A search for new talent should come down to who will thrive in the company’s culture. Achieving a good, diverse dynamic requires thinking about what makes the culture unique—including shared values, work styles and valuable traits.  

“Seeking people who resemble the current team is less important than seeking people who share the core values and can add something new to the organization,” explains Quinn.  

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Unleashing the power of all of us.

6 Encourage all team members to contribute 

Leaders often have go-to people they rely on. That’s great for the go-to people, but not so easy for everyone else. It pays to train and incentivize leaders to: 

  • Get input from everyone—especially people who may not normally speak up
  • Spread out high-value opportunities by rotating visible, valuable assignments among the team
  • Foster diverse thinking and look for ways to elevate people with different perspectives

7 Nurture soft skills 

Organizations that cultivate soft skills—such as being open to feedback, observing others, communicating effectively, and emphasizing teamwork—have a leg up on the diversity front.  

For example, it’s important for employees to feel safe calling out non-supportive behaviors, from microaggressions to more challenging situations. Soft skills can help employees address the situation in a respectful, constructive way. 

8 Create metrics around diversity 

It’s difficult to manage what can’t be measured, so companies should start calculating diversity-related factors. For example, if the metrics show minorities aren’t being promoted, there is probably bias in the process. Sometimes, it helps to let the numbers do the talking. 

9 Be prepared for some resistance 

Not everyone is going to be on board with diversity. To help some people break down their fears, managers can ask questions such as, “What kind of leader do you want to be?” or “Why do you think you react this way?” Questions like these can help people become more self-aware and accepting. 

10 Call out the value of DE&I 

Leaders should regularly and consistently remind their team that diversity is crucial to growth. Diversity should not be a one-time training activity. It should be mentioned regularly and merit the same level of attention as other mission-critical work. 

Need help with DE&I? 

Every workplace has to take steps toward diversity, equity and inclusion. If organizations keep putting in the effort, the result will benefit the business. “Leadership needs to consistently make it clear why diversity and diversity initiatives are important to your organization,” says Quinn. 

Korn Ferry has helped companies around the world design strategies for DE&I. With this support, our clients develop fair and equitable structures, transforming the behavior and mindset of their team. If your organization isn’t as diverse and inclusive as it should be, we can help

Related Capabilities