ELFA Webinar Outlines Ways to Mitigate Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

To further the mission for equality, diversity and inclusion, both personally and within the equipment finance industry, the Equipment Leasing and Finance Association’s Equality Steering Committee sponsored a webinar on July 15 titled “An Introduction to Unconscious Bias.” The discussion examined what unconscious bias is, the “blind spots” that shape perceptions of oneself and others, and how to mitigate bias and integrate inclusive leadership behaviors.

Deborah Baker, head of worldwide leasing and financing at HP, chair of the ELFA’s Women’s Council and member of the ELFA’s Equality Committee, set the tone for the discussion with a review of the ELFA’s statement from June 11 pledging to fight racial injustice and intolerance. Michael Baez, director of banking and diversified financials at Capgemini America and member of the ELFA’s Equality Committee, introduced guest speaker Janet Pope, corporate social responsibility director at Capgemini America, for a presentation with interactive polls designed to provide participants with actions they can take as individuals as well as within their organizations, regardless of their position or tenure, to be more inclusive as co-workers, leaders and citizens.

As equipment finance companies seek to further their D&I efforts, below are some key questions addressed during the webinar.

What is unconscious bias?

In kicking off the discussion, Pope made the distinction that unconscious bias is neither negative nor positive, but neutral. Unconscious bias is the result of shortcuts the brain takes in making judgements or decisions. People have emotional reactions before they can have a logical reaction. It can also never be eliminated completely, but it can be mitigated.

How does unconscious bias show up in the workplace?

Unconscious patterns can play out in ways that are so subtle they are hard to spot and articulate. A team member whose manager repeatedly misspells or mispronounces their name, or a younger employee assuming a more senior one is not as proficient with technology are examples of micro-behaviors. Micro-behaviors, whether advantages or inequities, can have an enormous impact on people and decision making. They are symptoms of a deeper phenomenon of how the concealed mind leads our lives.

What are some examples of unconscious bias?
The following are examples of unconscious bias to be aware of, acknowledge and address:

  • Primacy/Recency effect: Judging all interactions with an individual through the lens of the initial or most recent interaction with that individual.
  • Fundamental attribution error: An overemphasis on personality-based explanations for behaviors observed in others while underemphasizing the role of situational influences.
  • Confirmation bias: Looking for information to justify the decision you already plan to make.
  • Familiarity/Similar to me bias: Partiality to those who are similar to you/people you know.
  • Inter-group bias: Viewing people in one’s group differently than those in a different group.
  • Projection bias: A tendency to assume that others share similar thoughts, beliefs or values.
  • Hindsight bias: An inclination, after an event has occurred, to see the event as having been predictable, despite having little or no objective basis for predicting it.
  • Investment/Rationalization bias: The more time that is put into a system or process, the more likely that it will be used/feeling that the more time spent on a project, it must be valuable.

What can we do to mitigate unconscious bias?

The physiology of the brain cannot be rewired, but there are steps that can mitigate acting on unconscious bias: pause, acknowledge your bias, notice influences to your decisions, stretch your comfort zone, be open and seek feedback, and identify your own patterns.

Pope acknowledged that as organizations move forward in their diversity and inclusion efforts, they should be prepared for some uncomfortable conversations. Asking questions, listening, reflecting and being open to learning from others’ experiences are steps everyone can take in addressing unconscious bias.

The ELFA released a diversity and inclusion toolkit for ELFA members. The toolkit is available here.

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