November 6, 2019
As Professor Joan Williams and researcher Sky Mihaylo say, “You can’t be a great manager without becoming a bias interrupter.” Interrupting bias can start by hiring from a diverse pool of candidates and using objective criteria to evaluate them fairly. And when it comes to office housework, bosses can assign a rotation, so that the work doesn’t fall exclusively to women. Bosses can also open up high-value projects to those outside of their trusted circle of employees. Such efforts can level the playing field across gender and race.
Other interruption skills for bosses include countering microaggressions, asking for marginalized employees’ opinions, and scheduling meetings inclusively. And when it comes to evaluating employees, Williams and Mihaylo recommend focusing on specific skill sets over personality, and being transparent about promotion requirements.
What’s great about these bias interruption methods is that managers can implement them as early as tomorrow’s afternoon meeting. And when managers interrupt bias in the moment, they set the example for all employees to do the same.
Many of the actions described above and discussed in our archives can be achieved regardless of your professional position. Which ones do you think you can implement right away, on an individual level? Which actions require more planning, team effort, or seniority? How can you begin to raise these issues in your workplace?
Rachel Nabors has a simple directive for employees with privilege who want to help employees of marginalized groups but aren’t sure how: get into management. She argues that in order for marginalized employees to advance at work, they need managers who provide them with equal access to mentoring and sponsorship, and who won’t under-utilize them based on stereotypes. They also need managers who don’t make decisions influenced by myths about fit, merit, and diversity vs. quality.
Commitment from the top is a tenet of any effective diversity program. But we like Nabor’s reframing of this advice. Rather than exclusively trying to convince those at the top that diversity matters, those with privilege can use it within decision-making positions to make organizational changes themselves.
Nabors lists ways those with more privilege can promote the advancement of those with less. For one thing, refine your communication skills, like active listening. Also, know the difference between a diverse workforce and an inclusive workplace, and continue to educate yourself on these issues.
Hospitals and insurers rely on a software program to determine which patients will require higher-cost medical care down the line. These patients are then enrolled in programs to help them stay on medication and out of the hospital. Because the software predicts costs rather than actual sickness, it identifies white patients—who tend to be higher-cost—for managed-care programs ahead of Black patients with the same or worse conditions. The result is that Black patients are systematically denied the care they need.
Biased medical software is only one way of denying Black patients care. Other factors include “doctors’ unconscious attitudes, blacks’ distrust in the healthcare system, lack of transportation, and poverty.”
Automated systems like this medical software can save lives. However, they can also “hide, speed and deepen racial discrimination behind a veneer of technical neutrality,” as Ruha Benjamin of Princeton University says. This practice then feeds into what she calls a “New Jim Code.” When using new technologies to make decisions, pay close attention to who benefits and who does not.