Bias-Free begins with Me: Here's how to become more Equitable as an Organization

Max Hawkins was worried.

His life was nearly perfect. Living in San Francisco and working at Google is cool, right?

His concern, though, was that he was living in a bubble. Doing the same things, day in and day out. Hanging out with the same people. Having the same conversations.

He decided to mix things up. He created an app that would allow him to hop out of his bubble. When he would order a ride to go somewhere, the app would select his destination. He went to parties he would never have thought of attending, met people he never would have met, and had experiences there was no way he would have intentionally had without this “bubble-hop.

His idea challenges convention, widens perspective and most importantly undermines implicit bias (the unintended and unconscious biases we have toward others).

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The concept of the “bubble-hop” also could improves equity in the workplace. In the book “That’s What She Said: What Men Need to Know (And Women Need To Tell them) About Working Together,” author Joanne Lipman observed that “we need men to join the conversation, to be our partners … most men aren’t anywhere near villains. They don’t need beating up … they’d like to see an equitable workplace, they just can’t figure out what they’re supposed to do about it.”

It always comes down to communication, doesn’t it? If we don’t learn how to authentically communicate with each other, we will lose out on the benefits of equity in our workplaces.

Equity in the workplace starts with congruence. Kedren Crosby (of consulting firm Work Wisdom LLC in Lancaster) has written that to be congruent means: “You live your values consistently and authentically. We trust people who are congruent because they do what they say they are going to do.”

If as leaders we want to have equitable organizations, we need to follow through on the tactics to get there, like having a “curtain” during the hiring process to combat our innate biases. Harvard Business Review author Gardiner Morse said in “Designing a Bias-Free Organization”: “stop going with your gut … use structured interviews where every candidate gets the same [treatment].”

To be more congruent, “Ask for kind-hearted accountability partners. When you fall out of alignment, you will get the much-needed tap on the shoulder to let you know that you are human,” Crosby advised.

Equity in the workplace is also enhanced with mindful listening. When we listen to others, we do more than just give them the gift of our attention and the chance to be heard — it also enhances our empathy. We might not know what it’s like for another person, but mindful listening brings us closer to understanding.

Lastly, a concrete tip that Lipman cites in her book is implementing ground rules. A TV producer realized that his team was woefully homogenous. Once he got a few more women on the writing team, he saw another problem: they didn’t speak up very much in their meetings and, if they did, they got interrupted almost constantly. In order to deal with the issue, he “came up with a new rule: No interrupting during prepared presentations. For anyone. The idea wasn’t to coddle women; it was to make sure the best ideas surfaced, and the worst were summarily killed.”

It can be painful to grow in self-awareness. In a radio interview, writer Eula Biss spoke to the importance of stumbling through difficult conversations that help us uncover our inequity. “I think if you can’t talk about something, you can’t think about something. And I think — I’ve worked with [people] who could barely let themselves think, they were so scared of thinking the wrong thing.”

Lipman cited a study that looked at same-sex groups solving a “whodunit murder mystery.” The same-sex groups came up with answers quickly and easily. Other groups added an “outsider” to the group, someone of the opposite sex to help solve the mystery. They had a tougher time agreeing and discussing the mystery. It took longer and was awkward. Plus, they weren’t confident about their answer.

The results? “These mixed groups nailed the correct perpetrator far more frequently than single-sex groups. And they did so precisely because of that awkward dynamic. Researchers concluded that simply by adding in someone of a different gender, the groups became more thoughtful, worked harder to find common ground, and as a result, came up with a superior solution.”

These uncomfortable times we are going through are actually fostering growth. Learning how to work equitably together results in better, smarter, more profitable and creative outcomes. What’s your bubble-hop at work?

Sarah Colantonio works at Work Wisdom LLC, a consulting firm in Lancaster. Her focus is on communication and mindfulness in the workplace. She can be reached at