There’s a difference between bias and racism. Racism is a learned behavior, born out of hate and ignorance. Bias on the other hand is a natural human occurrence; which crosses all genders, races, age ranges, sexual orientations and social-economic statuses. Bias is the act of preferring to engage with a certain type of person over all others. Usually, humans are bias toward people that share their own characteristics. Men tend to prefer to do business or work with men. Latinos tend to do business or with with other Latinos. So on, and so forth. As humans, we’re usually bias towards those people we are comfortable with; such as people that look like us, our friends and family, or people from our hometowns.
In some instances, bias is not a problem. Most of my friends are women. Why? Because, I tend to connect more with women than men. Doesn’t mean I hate men, it just means, I prefer to have women as friends. However, there are times when bias can become a problem. This is mostly prevalent in companies or organizations who serve the public. If your staff have bias toward one group over another, you may have a customer service problem on your hands.
How Do I Know If There is Bias in My Company?
There is no test or assessment for finding bias in an organization. You just have to look for the signs. If you identify a problem, you’ll need to take action quickly. Bias can lead to angry customers, which spells disaster for your bottom line. In fact, depending on the level of bias and the degree of offense taken by the customer, you could find yourself on the wrong end of a Twitter rant or product boycott.
To determine if there is bias in your company, look for these signs:
- Pattern of Common Complaints – Do you receive the same complaint from different customers about not being serviced quickly. Or having other customers serviced before them, even though they were there first? Customers will often tell you exactly what’s going on, but if you aren’t collecting these complaints in a central location, you may not see the pattern. Provide customers a way to submit complaints about their service. Make contact information optional, to encourage customers to leave feedback. Pay close attention to the scenarios outlined in the complaints. Do you see common elements? The same employee being mentioned. Common characteristics of the customer — is it always a woman or always a man? Is the customer always older or a teenager?
- Unexplained Lack of Diversity in Customer Base – If you have a sales team, do you notice a lack of diversity in your customer base? Your sales team may be focusing their efforts on a certain type of customer, which leaves other types of customers out. Resulting in you leaving money on the table! Take a look at your customer base and see if any demographic of customer is missing or underrepresented. For example, if you are a medical equipment company, do you have any customers in the inner city or rural areas?
- Lost Customers – Similar to the first sign, have you seen an influx of lost customers? Customer who only bought once or twice or customers who have declined to renew? This is a tell-tale sign of a problem. It might not be bias, but again, look for patterns in the lost customer list. Are you loosing more African American customers than anyone else? Are you loosing more small business clients than enterprise level?
- Negative Break Room Talk – There are times when your employees will verbalize their bias during private conversations away from customers. If you hear this type of talk, that’s when you know you have bias in your company and it’s time to do something about it.
What Do I Do About Bias?
The first action you’ll need to take is having a talk with your employees. I wouldn’t suggest speaking to only one, I would suggest speaking to all of them. After you’ve done that, then you can have secondary conversations with individuals you think are more bias than others. But the first step is to have a conversation with everyone. During this conversation, you need to be very honest. Let them know the research you’ve done and what type of customer you believe there is bias against. Explain to them, what lost customers means for the company as a whole. Then open the floor up for dialog. Employees should feel comfortable discussing any biases they have in this setting. Let them know you are all there to learn and understand.
There are many reasons for bias, but often it is rooted in fear. Fear is an ugly emotion that can cause otherwise rational individuals to act in irrational ways. And this is okay. This is called being human. Focus on understanding why the employees have these biases and come up with a game plan on what you can do as a group to combat the problem. This game plan may include trainings, role playing exercises, mentor situations, buddy system sales teams, or anything else that helps build confidence in the employee and alleviate that fear.
Keep in mind, however, there will be times when an employee is not interested in these tactics and doesn’t want to stop being biased. In these cases, you will need to make a decision. Do you want to continue working with this employee to rehabilitate them? Or, do you no longer see them fitting into your company culture? If your answer is the latter, then it may be time for them to seek employment elsewhere. Remember, your company culture is important. It is the driving force behind why people work at the companies they work at. You want everyone to be moving in the same direction. Division is the fastest way to the destruction of your company.
This is a very interesting topic and because it can span so many things, I thought I’d provide some additional resources for you to review at your leisure.
- Seven Steps to Reduce Bias in Hiring
- Is Subconscious Bias Affecting Your Hiring Decisions?
- Gender Bias in Sales
- Unconscious Bias in Customer Service
- A Hidden Service Blocker: Unconscious Bias
- 9 Types of Unconscious Bias and the Shocking Ways They Affect Your Recruiting Efforts
- Avoid Unconscious Bias at Work