BIAS INTERRUPTERS

Tools for Organizations

Incremental steps that improve diversity in your organization can yield large gains. Diverse work groups perform better and are more committed, innovative and loyal. Gender diverse workgroups have better collective intelligence, which improves performance by the group and its members, leading to better financial performance. Racially diverse workgroups consider a broader range of alternatives, make better decisions, and are better at solving problems. Bias, if unchecked, affects many different groups: modest or introverted men, LGBT+, individuals with disabilities, class migrants (professionals from non-professional backgrounds), women, and people of color. We’ve distilled the huge literature on bias into simple steps that help you and your company perform better.

Bias interrupters are small adjustments to your existing systems. They should not require you to abandon systems currently in place.

THE CHALLENGE

A recent study of performance evaluations in tech found that 66% of women’s performance reviews contained negative personality criticism (“You come off as abrasive”) whereas only 1% of men’s reviews did.(1) We know now that workplaces that view themselves as being highly meritocratic often are, in fact, more biased than other organizations(2)  and that the usual responses—one-shot diversity trainings, mentoring and networking programs—typically don’t work.(3)

THE SOLUTION: A 3-Step Approach

Bias interrupters are tweaks to basic business systems that can yield large gains for your business, using a 3-step process.

1. Use Metrics

Data and metrics help you spot problems—and assess the effectiveness of the measures you’ve taken. Businesses use metrics to help them achieve any strategic goal. Key metrics:

  • Do your performance evaluations show consistently higher ratings for majority men than for women, people of color, or other relevant groups?
  • Do women’s ratings fall after they have children? Do employees’ ratings fall after they take parental leave or adopt flexible work arrangements?
  • Do the same performance ratings result in different promotion or compensation rates for different groups?

Keep metrics by: 1) individual supervisor; 2) department; and 3) the organization as a whole.

2. Implement Bias Interrupters

All bias interrupters should apply both to written evaluations and in meetings, where relevant. Because every organization is different, not all interrupters will be relevant. Consider this a menu.

To understand the research and rationale behind the suggested bias interrupters, read our Identifying Bias in Performance Evaluations Worksheet (2-page version or with citations) which summarizes hundreds of studies.

  • Empower people involved in the evaluation process to spot and interrupt bias by reading our Identifying Bias in Performance Evaluations Worksheet. Read and distribute the Worksheet to help you understand the rationale behind the steps suggested below.
  • Appoint Bias Interrupters.
    Have team members or HR business partners who have been trained to spot bias involved at every step of the evaluation process.
  • Begin with clear and specific performance criteria directly related to job requirements.
    Try: “He is able to write an effective summary judgement motion under strict deadlines,” instead of: “He writes well.”
  • Require evidence from the evaluation period that justifies the rating.
    Try: “In March, she gave X presentation in front of Y client on Z project, answered his questions effectively, and was successful in making the sale,” instead of: “She’s quick on her feet.”
  • Consider performance and potential separately for each candidate.
    Performance and potential should be appraised separately, given the tendency for majority men to be judged on potential; others on performance.
  • Separate personality issues from skill sets for each candidate.
    Personal style should be appraised separately from skills, because a narrower range of behavior often is accepted from women and people of color. For example, women may be labeled “difficult” for doing things that are accepted in majority men.
  • Level the playing field by ensuring everyone knows how to promote themselves effectively and sending the message they are expected to do so. Distribute our Writing an Effective Self-Evaluation Worksheet, which can help.
  • Offer alternatives to self-promotion.
    Encourage or require managers to set up more formal systems for sharing successes, such as a monthly email that lists employees’ accomplishments.
  • Provide a bounceback
    Managers whose performance evaluations show persistent bias should receive a bounceback (i.e. someone should talk through the evidence with them).
    What’s a bounceback? An example: in one organization, when a supervisor’s ratings of an underrepresented group deviate dramatically from the mean, the evaluations are returned to the supervisor with the message: either you have an undiagnosed performance problem that requires a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP), or you need to take another look at your evaluations as a group. The organization found that a few people were put on PIPs– but that over time supervisors’ ratings of underrepresented groups converged with those of majority men. The organization that used this found that all groups found performance evaluations equally fair. 
  • Have Bias Interrupters play an active role in calibration meetings.
    In many organizations, managers meet to produce a target distribution of ratings or cross-calibrate rankings. Have managers read our Identifying Bias in Performance Evaluations Worksheet before they meet. Have a trained Bias Interrupter in the room.
  • Don’t eliminate your performance appraisal system.
    Eliminating formal performance evaluation systems and replacing them with feedback-on-the-fly creates conditions for bias to flourish.

3. Repeat as Needed

  • Return to your key metrics. Did the bias interrupters produce any change?
  • If you don’t see change, you may need to implement a stronger bias interrupter, or you may be targeting the wrong place in the performance evaluation process.
  • Use an iterative process until your metrics improve.

RESOURCES

Toolkit (PDF)

Worksheet: Identifying Bias in Performance Evaluations (two-page version, PDF)

Worksheet: Identifying Bias in Performance Evaluations (full version with citations, PDF)

Worksheet: Writing an Effective Self-Evaluation (PDF)

Footnotes

1. Snyder, 2014
2. Castilla, 2015
3. Kalev, Dobbin, & Kelly, 2006
For the full citations, see our bibliography. 

THE CHALLENGE

Unconscious bias can affect the hiring process in ways that hurt your company. For example, studies have shown that when comparing identical resumes, “Jamal” needed eight additional years of experiences to be considered as qualified as “Greg,” and “Jennifer” was offered $4,000 less in starting salary than “John.” (1)

We know now that workplaces that view themselves as being highly meritocratic often are, in fact, more biased than other organizations (2) and that the usual responses—one-shot diversity trainings, mentoring and networking programs—typically don’t work. (3)

THE SOLUTION: A 3-Step Approach

Bias interrupters are tweaks to basic business systems that can yield large gains for your business, using a 3-step process:

1. Use Metrics

Businesses use metrics to assess whether they have progressed towards any strategic goal. Metrics can help you pinpoint where bias exists, and assess the effectiveness of the measures you’ve taken. (Whether metrics are made public will vary from company to company, and from metric to metric.)

  • Track the demography of the candidate pool through the entire hiring process: from the initial pool of candidates considered, to who survives resume review, who gets invited to interview, who survives the interview process, who gets job offers, who accepts those offers, and who doesn’t. Break down the demography by under-represented groups: women, people of color, people with disabilities, veterans, members of the LGBT community, etc.
  • Track whether hiring qualifications are waived more often for people from certain groups than other groups.

Keep metrics by: 1) individual supervisor; 2) department; and 3) the organization as a whole.

2. Implement Bias Interrupters

All bias interrupters should apply both to written evaluations and in meetings, where relevant. Because every organization is different, not all interrupters will be relevant. Consider this a menu. To understand the research and rationale behind the suggested bias interrupters, read our Identifying Bias in Hiring Worksheet (2-page version or with citations) which summarizes hundreds of studies.

A. Empower and Appoint
  • Empower people involved in the hiring process to spot and interrupt bias by using our Identifying Bias in Hiring Worksheet. Read and distribute.
  • Appoint Bias Interrupters—HR professionals or team members trained to spot bias, and involve them at every step of the hiring process.
B. Assembling a Diverse Pool
  • Limit referral hiring (“friends of friends”) If your existing organization is not diverse, hiring from your current employees’ social networks will replicate the lack of diversity.
  • Tap diverse networks Reach out to diverse candidates where they are. Identify job fairs, affinity networks, conferences and training programs that are aimed at women and people of color in your field and send recruiters.
  • Getting the word out If diverse candidates are not applying to your jobs, get the word out that your company is a great place to work for women and people of color. One company offers public talks by women at their company and writes blog posts, white papers, and social media articles highlighting the women who work there.
  • Change the wording of your job postings Using words like “leader” and “competitive” in your ads will tend to reduce the number of women who apply.(4) Explicitly stating that the salary is negotiable can reduce the gender gap in applicants.(5)
  • Insist on a diverse pool If you use a headhunter, tell him or her you expect a diverse pool, not just one or two diverse candidates. If the initial pool is largely homogenous, it is statistically unlikely that you will hire a diverse candidate. The odds of hiring a woman were 79 times greater if there were at least two women in the finalist pool; the odds of hiring a person of color were 194 times greater.(6)
C. Resume Review
  • Pre-commit to what’s important—and require accountability Pre-commit in writing to what qualifications are important, both in entry-level and in lateral hiring. When qualifications are waived for a specific candidate, require an explanation of why they are no longer important—and keep track to see for whom requirements are waived. (7)
  • Ensure resumes are graded on the same scale Establish clear grading rubrics and ensure that everyone grades on the same scale. Consider having each resume reviewed by two different managers and averaging the score.
  • Avoid inferring family obligations A candidate’s family situation should have nothing to do with your job search. Avoid inferring family obligations from a candidate’s resume and don’t count “gaps in a resume” as an automatic negative. Give candidates an opportunity to explain gaps by asking about them directly during the interview stage.
  • Consider candidates from multi-tier schools Don’t limit your search to candidates from Ivy League and top-tier schools. This favors majority candidates from elite backgrounds and hurts people of color and class migrants (professionals from blue-collar backgrounds).(8) Studies show that top students from lower ranked schools are often similarly successful.(9)
  • Try using “blind auditions” (unless you’re actively recruiting diverse candidates) If women and candidates of color are dropping out of the pool at the resume review stage, consider removing demographic info from resumes before review. This way, candidates can be evaluated based solely on their qualifications. Downside: if you’re actively trying to recruit women and candidates of color, this strategy will not apply.
D. Interviews
  • Use structured interviews Ask the same list of questions to every person who is interviewed. Ask questions that are directly relevant to the job the candidate is applying for.(10)
  • Ask performance-based questions Performance-based questions, or behavioral interview questions, (“Tell me about a time you had too many things to do and had to prioritize”) are a strong predictor of how successful a candidate will be at the job.(11)
  • Administer skills-based screening If applicable, ask candidates to take a skills-based assessment (for example, if part of the job is analyzing data sets and making recommendations, ask the candidate to do that.)
  • Develop a consistent rating scale and discount outliers Candidate’s answers (or skills-based assessments) should be rated on a consistent scale and backed up by evidence. Average the scores granted on each relevant criterion and discount outliers.(12)
  • If “culture fit” is a criterion for hiring, provide a specific definition Does someone fit? Culture fit can be important but when it’s misused, it can disadvantage people of color, class migrants, and women.(13) Culture fit should not mean the “lunch test” (who you would like to have lunch with). Questions about sports may feel exclusionary to women, and questions about hobbies may make class migrants feel less at home if they did not grow up, for example, playing golf.
  • “Gaps in a resume” should not be automatic disqualification Mothers are 79% less likely to be hired than an identical candidate without children.(14) Train people not to make inferences about whether someone is committed to their job due to parental status.
  • Provide candidates and interviewers with a handout detailing expectations Develop an interview protocol sheet that explains to everyone what’s expected from candidates in an interview. Distribute it to candidates and interviewers for review.

3. Repeat as needed

  • Return to your key metrics. Did the bias interrupters produce any change?
  • If you don’t see change, you may need to implement a stronger bias interrupter, or you may be targeting the wrong place in the hiring process.
  • Use an iterative process until your metrics improve.

RESOURCES

Toolkit (PDF)

Worksheet: Identifying Bias in Hiring (two-page version, PDF)

Worksheet: Identifying Bias in Hiring (full version with citations, PDF))

Footnotes

1. Bertrand & Mullainathan, 2004; Moss-Racusin, Dovidio, Brescoll, Graham, & Handelsman, 2012
2. Castilla, 2015
3. Kalev, Dobbin, & Kelly, 2006
4. Gaucher, Friesen, Kay, 2011
5. Leibbrandt & List, 2012
6. Johnson, Hekman, & Chan 2016
7. Norton et al, 2004; Brewer, 1996; Tetlock & Mellers, 2011
8. Rivera, 2015
9. Dale & Krueger, 2002; 2011
10. Thorngate, 2009
11. Bock, 2015
12. Bock, 2015; Thorngate, 2009
13. Rivera, 2015
14. Correl & Paik, 2007For the full citations, download our bibliography.

THE CHALLENGE

Every workplace has high-profile assignments that are career-enhancing (“glamour work”) and low-profile assignments that are beneficial to the organization but not the individual’s career. Research shows that women do more “office housework”(1) than men.(2) This includes literal housework (ordering lunch), administrative work (scheduling a time to meet), and emotion work (“she’s upset; comfort her”). Misallocation of the glamour work and the office housework is a key reason why leadership across most industries is still male-dominated. Professionals of color (both men and women) also report less access to desirable assignments than white men do:(3)

Glamour work. More than 80% of white men, but only 53% of women of color, 59% of white women, and 63% of men of color,reported the same access to desirable assignments as their colleagues.(4)
Office housework. Almost 50% of white women and 43% of women of color reported that at work they more often play administrative roles such as taking notes for a meeting compared to their colleagues. Only 26% of white men and 20% of men of color reported this.(5)

Diversity at the top can only occur when diverse employees at all levels of the organization have access to assignments that let them take risks and develop new skills. If the glamour work and the office housework aren’t distributed evenly, you won’t be tapping into the full potential of your workforce. Most workplaces that use an informal “hey, you!” assignment system end up distributing assignments based on factors other than experience and talent.  If women and people of color keep getting stuck with the same low-profile assignments, they will be more likely to be dissatisfied and to search for opportunities elsewhere.(6)

 

THE SOLUTION

Fair allocation of the glamour work and the office housework are two separate problems. Some organizations will want to solve the office housework problem before tackling the glamour work; others will want to address both problems simultaneously. (Here is our road-map for implementation)

A. Identify and Track

The first step is to find out if, and where, you have a problem. Find out:

    What is the office housework and glamour work in your organization?
    Who is doing what and for how long?
    Are there demographic patterns that indicate gender and/or racial bias at play?
To do this:

  1. Distribute our Office Housework Survey to your employees to find out who is doing the office housework and how much of their time it takes up.
  2. Convene relevant managers (and anyone else who distributes assignments) to identify what is the glamour work and what is the lower-profile work in your organization. Use our Assignment Typology Worksheet to create a typology for assignments, and our protocol for more details.
  3. Input the information from the typology meeting into the Manager Assignment Worksheet and distribute to managers. Have managers fill out the worksheet and submit them, identifying who they assign the glamour work and lower-profile work to. See our protocol for more details.

2. Analyze Metrics

Analyze survey results and Manager Assignment Worksheet information for demographic patterns, dividing employees into (i) majority men, majority women, men of color, and women of color, (ii) parents who have just returned from parental leave, (iii) professionals working part time or flexible schedules, and (iv) any other underrepresented group that your organization tracks (veterans, LGBTQ people, individuals with disabilities, etc.) Identify:

  • Who is doing the office housework?
  • Who is doing the glamour work?
  • Who is doing the low-profile work?
  • Create and analyze metrics by individual supervisor.

3. Implement Bias Interrupters for Office Housework

  • Don’t ask for volunteers. Women are more likely to volunteer because they are under subtle but powerful pressures to do so.(7)
  • Hold everyone equally accountable. “I give it to women because they do it well and the men don’t,” is a common sentiment. This dynamic reflects an environment in which men suffer few consequences for doing a poor job on office housework, but women who do a poor job are seen as “prima donnas” or “not team players.” Hold men and women equally accountable for carrying out all assignments properly.
  • Use admins. If possible, assign office housework tasks to admins, e.g. birthday parties, scheduling meetings, ordering lunch.
  • Establish a rotation. A rotation is also helpful for many administrative tasks (e.g. taking notes, scheduling meetings.) Rotating housework tasks like ordering lunch and planning parties is also an option if admins are unavailable.
  • Another option for administrative tasks is to assign a more junior person to shadow someone more senior—and take notes.

4. Implement Bias Interrupters for Glamour Work

  • Avoid mixed messages. If your organization values such things as mentoring and committee work (like serving on the Diversity Initiative), make sure these things are valued when the time comes for promotions and raises. Sometimes organizations say they highly value this kind of work—but they don’t. Mixed messages of this kind will negatively affect women and people of color.
  • Conduct a roll-out meeting. Gather relevant managers and supervisors to introduce the bias interrupters initiative and set expectations. Here are key talking points.
  • Provide a bounceback. Identify individual supervisors whose glamour work allocation is lop-sided. Hold a meeting with that supervisor and bring the problem to their attention. Help them think through why they only assign glamour work to certain people or certain types of people. Work with them to figure out if either, 1) the available pool for glamour work assignments is diverse but is not being tapped fully or whether 2) only a few people have the requisite skills for glamour work assignments. Read our Responses to Common Pushback and Identifying Bias in Assignments worksheets before the bounceback meetings to prepare. You may have to address low-profile work explicitly at the same time as you address high-profile assignments; this will vary by organization.

If a diverse pool has the requisite skills…

  • Implement a rotation. Have the supervisor set up a rotation to ensure fair access to plum assignments.
  • Formalize the pool. Write down the list of people with the requisite skills and make it visible to the supervisor. Sometimes just being reminded of the pool can help.
  • Institute accountability. Have the supervisor track their allocation of glamour work going forward to measure progress. Research shows that accountability matters.(8)

If the pool is not diverse…

  • Re-visit your assumption that only one (or very few) employees can handle this assignment: is that true or is the supervisor in question just more comfortable working with those few people?
  • Analyze how the pool was assembled. Does the supervisor allocate the glamour work by relying on self-promotion or volunteers? If so, that will often disadvantage women and people of color. Shift to more objective measures to create the pool based on skills and qualifications.

If #1 and #2 aren’t relevant or don’t solve your problem, then it’s time to expand the pool:

  • Development plan. Identify what skills or competencies an employee needs to be eligible for the high-profile assignments work and develop a plan to help the employee develop the requisite skills.
  • Leverage existing HR policies. If your organization uses a competency-based system, or has a Talent Development Committee or equivalent, that’s a resource to help develop competencies so that career-enhancing assignments can be allocated fairly more fairly.
  • Have a more-junior person shadow a more-experienced person during the high-profile assignment.
  • Establish a mentoring program to help a broader range of junior people gain access to valued skills.

If you can’t expand your pool, re-frame the assignment so that more people could participate in it. Could you break up the assignment into discrete pieces so more people get the experiences they need?

If nothing else works, consider a formal assignment system. Appoint an Assignments Czar to oversee the distribution of assignments in your organization. See what other organizations have done.

5. Repeat as Needed

    • Return to your metrics. Did the bias interrupters produce change?
  • If you still don’t have a fair allocation of high- and low-profile work, you may need to implement stronger bias interrupters, or to consider moving to a formal assignment system. See what other organizations have done in this regard.
    • Use an iterative process until your metrics improve.

RESOURCES

Toolkit (PDF)

Office Housework Survey

Assignment Typology Worksheet

Protocol

Manager Assignment Worksheet

Identifying Bias in Assignments

Key Talking Points

Responses to Common Pushback

Footnotes

1. Williams & Dempsey, 2014
2. Misra, Lundquist & Templer, 2012; Mitchell & Hesli, 2013; Porter, 2007; Benschop & Dooreward 1998; Ohlott, Ruderman & McCauley, 1994; De Pater, Van Vianen, & Bechtoldt 2010
3. ABA Commission on Women, forthcoming 2017
4. Ibid
5. Ibid
6. Ibid
7. Heilman & Chen, 2005; Allen, 2006; Babcock, Recalde, Vesterlund, Weingart, 2017; Williams & Dempsey, 2014
8. Tetlock. 1983; Tetlock & Mitchell, 2009For the full citations, see our bibliography.

THE CHALLENGE

Having expertise increases men’s influence—but decreases women’s.[1] This is just one way subtle biases play out in meetings.

If companies don’t interrupt bias playing out in meetings, they may lose the talent and insight they pay for—or even encounter safety risks. We heard from one woman scientist in a workplace that handled dangerous materials that she was sharply criticized as aggressive when she brought up a flaw in a male colleague’s analysis. After that, she took to “bringing in baked goods and being agreeable” (and, we assume, looking for another job!).

[1] Thomas-Hunt & Phillips, 2004

THE SOLUTION

Businesses use metrics to assess whether they have progressed towards any strategic goal. Metrics can help you pinpoint where bias exists, and assess the effectiveness of the measures you’ve taken. (Whether metrics are made public will vary from company to company, and from metric to metric.)

1. Identify and Track Using Metrics

Options for finding out whether you have a problem are listed from least to most time-consuming.

  1. Employ new technologies:
  • GenderEQ: an app that analyzes the ratio of men and women speaking time
  • WomanInterrupted: an app that tracks how many times women are interrupted
  1. Use our free 2-minute downloadable survey to assess bias issues.
  2. Appoint a Bias Interrupter to gather metrics over the course of several meetings. Metrics to gather:
  • Who speaks at meetings: is it representative of who attends?
  • Interruptions: is there a culture of interrupting in your meetings? If so, is there a gender or racial difference between who does the interrupting and who gets interrupted?
  • Stolen idea. Research shows that women and people of color report that others get credit for ideas they originally offered much more than white men do.[1] Keep track of who gets credit for ideas offered and who originated them.
  • Are the right people getting invited? Be sure everyone who has a part to play is at the meeting.
  • Ideas implemented: whose ideas get implemented?
  • Office housework. Track who takes the notes, who keeps the minutes, who gets coffee, and other office housework tasks.
  • Meeting scheduling: are meetings scheduled at times or at locations that make it difficult or impossible for parents and caregivers to attend?

[1] Williams et al., 2016; Williams et al., 2018

2. Implement Bias Interrupters

Because every organization is different, not all interrupters will be relevant. Consider this a menu.

To understand the research and rationale behind the suggested bias interrupters, read our Identifying Bias in Meetings Worksheet which summarizes hundreds of studies.

Rotate office housework tasks. Women are more likely to be asked to do the “office housework” tasks for meetings: taking notes, scheduling the conference rooms, ordering lunch/snacks for meetings, cleaning up afterwards. If admins are available to do these tasks, use them. If not, don’t ask for volunteers. Instead, figure out a fair way to spread the housework tasks evenly by rotating based on arbitrary criteria (birthday, astrological sign, seniority, etc.) For more bias interrupters about office housework, see the Interrupting Bias in Assignments worksheet.

Mind the “stolen idea.”  Make sure people get credit for ideas they offered. When you see ideas get stolen, you can say, “I’ve been thinking about that ever since Pam first said it. You’ve added something important, Eric, here’s the next step.”

Avoid personality double-standards. Make sure women and people of color can speak up without backlash. Decades of research have shown that women face social pressures to hedge. (“Don’t you think?”) Both women and people of color may face backlash for speaking in a direct and assertive manner.[1] Have your team read “Identifying Bias in Meetings” to help level the playing field.

Ask people to speak up. Women and people of color often face social pressure to speak in a tentative, deferential manner.  If someone isn’t speaking up, ask them to weigh in. And if you know someone has expertise in an area, ask them directly.[2] This strategy can help class migrants and introverts feel included.

Have a policy for interruptions. Create and enforce an overall policy for interruptions. One option is a no-interruptions policy, where you make it clear that interruptions are not to be tolerated, and ding people when they interrupt. A gentler policy is to keep track of who is continually interrupting and getting interrupted, and talk about the problem.

Don’t give interrupters free reign. If a few people are dominating the conversation, address it directly. Take them aside and explain that your workplace employs a broad range of people because you need to hear a broad range of viewpoints. Point out that some people are good at “shooting from the hip” while others need to be given more time and space to feel comfortable speaking up. Some may not even realize they’re frequent interrupters.

Schedule meetings appropriately. Schedule meetings in the office, not at the golf course. For an off-site, schedule lunch or afternoon coffee. Overall, stick to working hours and professional locations for work meetings. Otherwise, you’re putting mothers and other caregivers at a disadvantage.

Avoid arranging furniture in ways that signal an in-group. When there is an inner- and outer-circle of chairs it can create hierarchy.[3] Pay attention: do all the men sit in the inner circle and the women sit in the outer circle, or is race playing a role? If this happens routinely, have everyone trade places with the person in front of them, or rearrange chairs so there is only one circle.

Establish ground rules for diverse groups. When meetings are diverse, people may fail to speak up for fear of not being politically correct. To combat this, simply state at the beginning of the meeting that because people can sometimes get offended, everyone should try their best to speak in a way that’s “politically correct” (aka respectful). Research shows that this simple statement can decrease uncertainty and increase creativity from participants.[4]

Encourage risk takers. It’s tough to speak up against a majority opinion—especially for someone who’s not in the majority group.[5] Research shows that people are more likely to voice minority opinions when at least one other person expresses a minority opinion –even if the minority opinions don’t agree with each other.[6] Some ideas that make it easier to voice minority opinions:

  • State explicitly at the beginning of meetings that you want to hear devil’s advocate ideas.
  • Support people who diverge from the majority. If someone starts to voice an opinion and senses that nobody wants to hear it, s/he will likely pipe down. If you see this happening, say “Let’s hear this idea out.”

Empower people to spot and interrupt bias by reading our Identifying Bias in Meetings Worksheet. Read and distribute the Worksheet to help you understand the rationale behind the steps suggested below.

[1] For representative studies, see Haselhuhn & Kray, 2012; Heilman & Taylor, 1981; Livingston, Rosette, & Washington, 2012; Berdahl & Min, 2012; Williams et al., 2016; Williams et al., 2018.

[2] Kim, Phillips, Thomas-Hunt, & Cabrera, forthcoming; Ridgeway & Nakagawa, 2017

[3] Sandberg, 2013

[4] Goncalo, Chatman, Duguid, & Kennedy, 2014

[5] Asch, 1956

[6] Asch, 1956

For the full citations, see our bibliography. 

5. Repeat as Needed

  • Return to your metrics. Did the bias interrupters produce change?
  • If you don’t see change, you may need to implement a stronger bias interrupter.
  • Use an iterative process until your metrics improve.

RESOURCES

Toolkit (PDF)

Bias in Meetings Survey

Identifying Bias in Meetings Worksheet

Identifying Bias in Meetings Worksheet (with citations)

THE CHALLENGE

Surveys show time and time again that employees want more flexibility at work, with one finding that 96% of white-collar professionals say they need flexibility.[1] Workers value workplaces that value them. In one study, attrition was cut in half when workers went remote, and telecommuting employees took fewer sick days and less time off.[2]

When workplaces rely on an outdated model of a breadwinner who is always available for work, not only do they exclude most people working today, they also hurt the company’s bottom line. According to Cisco, their mobile or remote employees have a voluntary attrition rate a third the size of their office-based employees.[3] Cisco credits this lower attrition rate with $75 million in annual savings for recruiting, hiring, and training replacements. Other studies have found sharp gains in productivity when workplaces move to telework or build-your-own schedules.[4]

 Building a flexible workplace enables employers to promote people based on their talent instead of their schedule.

THE SOLUTION

Recognize the difference between crisis work and full-time/part-time telework. Working remotely in the midst of a crisis, like the COVID-19 pandemic, is not the same as telework during normal times. The first steps to successful telework are childcare and a place to work. Organizations designing a permanent telework scheme typically will balance the productivity gains of telework with the innovation gains of in-office work. For tips on creating a telework policy that works for your organization visit: https://trello.com/remote-work-guide.[5]

 

  1. Allow for flex time. Flex times allows employees to start and end work at times of their own choosing, often within limits (e.g. start times between 7-11 a.m.). Don’t assume hourly employees can’t participate: having one receptionist work 8-5 and another work 9-6, for example, often benefits an organization.
  2. Use reduced schedules to expand your talent pool. Offer reduced scheduling to employees without compromising career advancement opportunities by offering proportional pay, benefits, and advancement. This strategy has been used successfully in law firms, enabling part-time attorneys to become partners. Only 18.2% of professional women and less than one-third of men work more than 40 hours per week, so if your workplace isn’t offering a reduced schedule with advancement opportunities, you’re missing out.[6]
  3. Consider offering a wider range of work arrangements. Seyfarth Shaw LLP’s Innovative Staffing Team allows attorneys highly flexible roles that are paid hourly or on a project basis. This enables them to take on as much or as little work as they want. What makes this program effective is that attorneys on this work-as-you-will track are able to transition into all other available roles within the organization, including partner track roles.
  4. Eliminate the flexibility stigma. Don’t stigmatize people based on schedule. Message clearly and often that promotion depends on talent and work, not on “face time” at the office—and practice what you preach.
  5. Don’t overvalue overwork. Encouraging your employees to regularly burn the midnight oil hurts more than it helps. Studies dating back to WWI find that chronic overwork (more than 40 hours a week) hurts productivity and more recent studies find that working less than 40 hours a week can increase productivity.[7] In one study, managers couldn’t tell the difference between employees who actually worked 80 hours a week and those who pretended to. Pay attention to what an employee’s efforts lead to, not how many hours it takes them to get there.

Your benefits send a message; make sure it’s the one you want. Look again at your work culture and employee benefits. Do they match up with the work-life balance values your company claims? Having a power-napping room, dry-cleaning, and free dinner for those who work after 8 p.m. are great, but if those are your only employee benefits, you are sending a strong message that you only value a certain group of employees. Provide a range of benefits that will appeal to employees from different demographics if that’s what you want to attract and retain.

RESOURCES                                                                                                                                                         

Toolkit (pdf)

 


 

FOOTNOTES

 

[1] A. Dean & A. Auerbach, “96% of U.S. Professionals Say They Need Flexibility, but Only 47% Have It,” June 2018. Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2018/06/96-of-u-s-professionals-say-they-need-flexibility-but-only-47-have-it.

[2] S. Mautz, “A 2-Year Stanford Study Shows the Astonishing Productivity Boost of Working From Home,” April 2018. Inc., https://www.inc.com/scott-mautz/a-2-year-stanford-study-shows-astonishing-productivity-boost-of-working-from-home.html.

[3] P. Leet, “How Telework Helps Cisco Recruit and Retain Employees,” June 2013. Cisco Blogs, https://blogs.cisco.com/ciscoit/how-telework-helps-cisco-recruit-and-retain-employees.

[4] Shana Lynch, “Why Working from Home is a ‘Future-Looking Technology,’” June 2017. Stanford Graduate School of Business, https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/why-working-home-future-looking-technology.

[5] For additional remote work tools: https://blog.trello.com/topic/remote-work.

[6] Gender Inequality, Work Hours, and the Future of Work, 2019. Institute of Women’s Policy Research, https://www.empowerwomen.org/es/resources/documents/2019/11/gender-inequality-work-hours-and-the-future-of-work?lang=en

[7] Jill Duffy, “What wartime ‘munitionettes’ can teach us about burnout,” September 2019. BBC, https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20190912-what-wartime-munitionettes-can-teach-us-about-burnout; Sarah Green Carmichael, “The Research is Clear: Long Hours Backfire for People and Companies,” August 2015. Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2015/08/the-research-is-clear-long-hours-backfire-for-people-and-for-companies; “The Six-Hour Work Day”. Ohio University Online Masters Blogs, https://onlinemasters.ohio.edu/blog/benefits-of-a-shorter-work-week/; John McNamara, “Create a culture of working less hours and you’ll boost productivity. Here’s why,” February 2018. Sage, https://www.sagepeople.com/about-us/news-hub/creating-culture-working-less-boost-productivity/#

THE CHALLENGE

According to a report by Better Life Lab at New America, nearly half of parents didn’t take two days off work after the birth or adoption of a child.[1]Studies show that paid parental leave can reduce infant mortality rates and improve long-term child and maternal health.[2]
Family leave is not just about children. While 30% of Americans say they anticipate needing to take leave to care for a new child, twice that many (60%) say they anticipate needing to take at least some family leave in the future (including caring for ill, disabled, or aging family members).[3] In fact, one-sixth of Americans spend an average of 20 hours a week caring for a sick or elderly family member.[4]

The need for family leave policies is already here, and with a rapidly aging population, these needs are only growing.[5] In order to retain the best workers, companies need to step up and create comprehensive leave and work/life balance policies that work. While employers are expected to comply with all applicable Federal, State, and local laws regarding leaves of absence, employers can and should do more to truly support and retain a diverse workforce with caregiving responsibilities.

THE SOLUTION

  1. If you offer short-term disability leave, you need also to offer it for childbirth (otherwise, that’s pregnancy discrimination). Typically, this means that six weeks of leave will be covered by your disability policy for a vaginal birth; eight weeks for a cesarean section.
  2. Determine the maximum paid parental leave your company can afford. Keep in mind that typically few employees will have children in any given year, but that without paid leave you will often lose one employee after another when they have children. Don’t assume you will only lose women; increasingly, we hear from men who insist on taking parental leave and walk away from companies that don’t provide it (although men often don’t tell the companies they’re leaving for this reason). Some states have paid laws to help cover the company’s costs and extend the available paid leave time.[6]
  3. Offer equal parental (not “primary caregiver”) leave and allow intermittent leave. So-called “primary caregiver” leave reflects a breadwinner/homemaker model that does not fit most families today. It also opens a company up to potential liability if someone openly states that primary caregivers are expected to be women, not men. Determine the amount of time your company can afford to offer—for all parents, men as well as women, and adopted as well as birth parents. Also, allow leave to be taken in small chunks rather than all at once; leave takers can work with their supervisors to create schedules that work for their teams.
  4. Offer equal leave for everyone, including hourly workers. Negative publicity can result from offering more to professionals but not part-time or hourly workers (who are typically less able to afford replacement care).
  5. Offer leave for all types of caregiving responsibilities. Offering leave only to parents risks breeding resentment on the part of those who need to care for elders, or a family member with a disability or illness. If your company is worried that non-birth-related caregiving leave will be abused, require permission from HR or supervisors to ensure substantial caregiving responsibilities exist.
  6. Set strong norms that everyone is expected to take their entire paid leave for childbirth/adoption. Leaders need to send a strong message that employees are expected to take the full amount of paid leave available to them, and that taking additional unpaid leave will not count against them. The best way to do this is to celebrate a pregnancy/adoption announcement (for men as well as women) by offering a company-logo onesie and group announcement signaling that children are something to be celebrated, not hidden. Once that norm is set, pregnancy/adoption announcements can be followed by having HR (or supervisors, if they are on-message) tell men as well as women that they are expected to take their full leave. Supervisors may need training to do this effectively. If there is a cultural expectation to come back early, then that is exactly what most employees will do. If men are not taking leave, your messaging is not effective, and men who want work-life balance are likely leaving your company for this reason.
  7. Eliminate the flexibility stigma. Effective policies depend on cultural shifts in your organization. If you tell employees– and you should– that taking leave won’t undercut their progress in the organization, then walk the talk. Make sure to plan for leaves effectively so that employees don’t feel slighted when they return, and so that their colleagues don’t feel like they are taking on undue burdens.
  8. Don’t violate the Family and Medical Leave Act. It is illegal to interfere with or discourage any employee, male or female, from taking leave under the FMLA. Although employers are not completely forbidden from contacting employees while they are on leave, these calls should be limited to brief, necessary business-related calls. Communications to return to work early, weekly status checks, or calls to perform work while on leave can make an employer liable for interference with FMLA rights.[7] Calls to employees out on leave should be managed through Human Resources. It is illegal to penalize employees for requesting or taking leave, either before or after they do so.
  9. Use a three-meeting model for off-ramping. Effective on- and off-ramping is vital, both to ensure smooth transitions and to eliminate the flexibility stigma.
    1. After a pregnancy announcement, the employee’s supervisor should ask for a meeting, congratulate the future parent, hand out the company onesie (see # 6 above), and say: “We expect everyone to take their full paid leave—and the entire amount of unpaid leave available to them if they wish. We will develop a transition plan that works for you.” At the initial meeting, assign a leave liaison if you have that program (see. #12 below). If your employee is an adopting or foster parent, or if your employee is taking family leave for elder care or medical reasons, the two meetings may be on an accelerated schedule.
    2. Three months before the leave is set to start, the employee’s supervisor should schedule a meeting, saying: “Come prepared with a list of all your ongoing projects and who you think might be a good fit to take them while you’re on leave. If no one comes to mind, don’t worry. We can figure it out together at the meeting, even if we need to hire temporary help—your list is just a jumping off point.”
    3. Shortly before the expected leave date arrives, meet again to finalize the plan for transitioning job duties. The supervisor should ask about the employee’s thoughts about post leave (understanding that plans may change). Are they thinking about returning on a part-time or flex schedule? For equity and legal reasons, make sure everyone taking family leave, regardless of gender, is asked the same questions.
  10. Don’t forget to ramp up when they return. Often women return for maternity leave and find it is very difficult to ramp up due to assumptions that they have limited time, and perhaps limited commitment, to work. That’s why it’s important to schedule a meeting immediately when someone returns, with at least two weekly check-ins thereafter, to ensure that an employee returning from leave isn’t being sidelined for projects because colleagues are benevolently (or not so benevolently) concerned about the returned employee’s workload. Doing this helps avoid attrition—and helps prevent maternal wall bias from becoming a legal problem.
  11. The best practice is a gradual-return-to-work policy. The best way to ensure that employees do not return to an overwhelming wall of work, and end up leaving the company, is a gradual-return-to-work policy. Typically these start with a 50% schedule and gradually build back to full-time. Without a formal policy, companies often find that some supervisors handle the return-to-work well, but that others do so poorly, resulting in high attrition.
  12. Designate leave liaisons. Create a workplace mentorship program that links leave-takers with mentor colleagues. Mentors then act as guides on issues like off- and on-ramping and the transition into parenthood. Some firms expand these programs by offering employees outside coaching sessions or classes for new parents and paid travel expenses for care support, enabling parents to bring their children on work-related travel. See #9 for more ideas.
  13. Broaden the scope of support. Organizations can continue to support all employees beyond leave by offering family caregiving benefits. To start, here are some ideas:·  Flexible and part-time schedules, see our Toolkit for Workplace Flexibility for guidance.
    · Get your employees a membership for regular or back-up childcare through providers like Care@Work, or better yet, offer on-site childcare.
    · You can also offer eldercare services through providers like Bright Horizons.
    · Help employees navigate pregnancy and postpartum with platforms like Mahmee or Maven.
    · Offer a travel allowance for caregivers on work-related travel and breastmilk overnight mailing services.
  14. Schedule the time to review your family leave and work/life balance policies. Like anything else that’s a priority, add discussions on these policies to your strategic plan and budget meetings.

This toolkit was adapted from the Harvard Business Review article: “Need a Good Parental Leave Policy? Here it is.” by Joan C. Williams and Kate Massinger, available at: https://hbr.org/2015/11/need-a-good-parental-leave-policy-here-it-is.

RESOURCES

Toolkit (pdf)

 


 
FOOTNOTES

[1] A. Lenhart, H. Swenson, & B. Schulte, “Lifting the Barriers to Paid Family and Medical leave for Men in the United States,” December 2019. New America: Better Life Lab. https://www.newamerica.org/better-life-lab/reports/lifting-barriers-paid-family-and-medical-leave-men-united-states/

[2] Arijit Nandi et al., The Impact of Parental and Medical Leave Policies on Socioeconomic and Health Outcomes in OECD Countries: A Systematic Review of the Empirical Literature, 96 The Milbank Quarterly 434–471 (2018). https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1468-0009.12340; “Paid Family Leave Policies And Population Health, ” Health Affairs Health Policy Brief, March 28, 2019: https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hpb20190301.484936/full/HPB_2019_RWJF_09_W.pdf

[3] A. Lenhart, H. Swenson, & B. Schulte, “Lifting the Barriers to Paid Family and Medical leave for Men in the United States,” December 2019. New America: Better Life Lab. https://www.newamerica.org/better-life-lab/reports/lifting-barriers-paid-family-and-medical-leave-men-united-states/

[4] Paid Leave US, “Making Caregiving Work for America’s Families,” https://drive.google.com/file/d/1K_4Eyd6rZi_om8qvRnzAeYiLwmW1WnyI/view

[5] 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day. – Paid Leave US, “Making Caregiving Work for America’s Families,” https://drive.google.com/file/d/1K_4Eyd6rZi_om8qvRnzAeYiLwmW1WnyI/view

[6] Check out your state’s laws by visiting: https://www.ncsl.org/research/labor-and-employment/state-family-and-medical-leave-laws.aspx

[7] Massey-Diez v. Univ. of Iowa Cmty. Med. Servs., 826 F.3d 1149, 1158 (8th Cir. 2016) (some courts have found that “asking or requiring an employee to perform work while on leave can constitute interference.”).

"Creative

Center for WorkLife Law. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Need Assistance Implementing Bias Interrupters? We can help.

Need Assistance Implementing Bias Interrupters? We Can Help.

200 McAllister St., San Francisco, CA 94102

The Center for WorkLife Law's website and its content are provided for general information purposes only and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. Any information contained in the website should not be construed as legal advice and is not intended to be a substitute for legal counsel. No attorney-client relationship will be formed based on your use of this website or any service provided.

Bias Interrupted: Creating Inclusion for Real and For Good is available for pre-order now  Learn more
close
open