In Global Mobility, Time for Soul-searching: Do You Have Unconscious Bias? 

The march of the workplace toward inclusivity is making leaders more sensitive about certain behavior and words that can negatively impact a colleague and/or all those around them, regardless of the intention of the one doing them. After all, nobody wants to be accused of being a racist, a bigot, a sexist, or someone living up to any of those descriptions that indicate deep-seated biases against certain individuals. 

This caution holds especially true for global mobility managers who have the mandate to make their assignees feel valued, accepted, and honored. The slightest tinge of discrimination from any of their homegrown staff can lower their morale and motivation.

Programs and policies that promote inclusivity and diversity can go a long way in limiting behavior that reeks of discrimination and prejudice. Still, everyone in the organization — including the assignees themselves — must guard themselves against unconscious bias. 

As Forbes points out, unconscious bias might even be more dangerous precisely because it’s possible those who harbor it may not even be aware of their biases. 

Unconscious bias takes into account the way we see gender, age, socio-economic status, educational attainment, culture, race, etc.  It can influence our decisions, from the seemingly trivial (e.g. the kind of cuisine we prefer) to a significant process in the workplace (e.g. the choice of people we do promote).

BuiltIn gives a few examples of how unconscious bias guides the way we work, who we talk to, and how we react to certain triggers in the workplace. 

Affinity bias happens when the global mobility manager hires an assignee because the two of them share certain interests or hobbies, went to the same university, or are members of the same country club. 

The manager thinks on a subconscious level that this assignee might be good at their job because the two of them do understand each other on certain important social aspects; what is neglected or overlooked are the actual credentials of the assignee which can qualify or disqualify them for the job.

Another bias is associated with attribution. An assignee does something unexpected during the interview. Or the hiring manager found out something about them before their first meeting. The hiring manager then makes conclusions about the assignee based on their own personal experiences. The assignee is not given their day in recruitment court because the manager failed to dig deeper, investigate, and find out the exact context that can give a proper perspective to the assignee’s actions.

Relocate Global has three tips on how we can shed off this unconscious bias:

First, accept that all of us do have this trait; nobody is exempted, not even the most well-educated, most culturally open, or the most generous. We still have knee-jerk reactions to certain groups of people, habits, institutions, and traditions. Acceptance of this truth will take no small amount of humility; but without it, we cannot outgrow or remove these cultural and emotional blinders that we don’t even know we’re wearing.

Second, do a very personal thorough kind of soul-searching. This may need a couple of hours in a private room away from the usual circle of family and friends. Create a list of the people you consider close to you. 

Do they belong to a certain demographic, class, and ethnic group? How do you interact with the different foreign nationals who join your company—which of them do you warm up to easily, and which ones automatically make your walls go up?

Finally, be conscious of your own reactions—and go the extra mile to go out of your comfort zone. Now that you are aware of your biases, be a little more proactive in countering them. If for some reason you feel you cannot connect with an assignee whose racial heritage contrasts with your family’s, remove your inner reservations and take time to get to know them better. Read up on the culture and traditions of assignees who you find difficulty relating to. Take them out to dinner with the locals in the office to foster a greater sense of community.

Many of the states that flourish today embrace multiculturalism and openness, like Northern California. This kind of success is not built in a day. But with a bit of personal effort on your part, you might be opening more windows that can nurture more winners for your organization.