Inclusion & Diversity

Unconscious Bias and Conscious Inclusion at Work

By: Laura Sehres, VP of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

According to research and consulting firm Gartner, teams with high diversity and inclusion show better adaptability, work satisfaction, creativity and loyalty to their company. Diversity is incredibly important to increasing team performance, but diverse teams that are also inclusive perform 1.4 times better than diverse teams that are not actively inclusive. Teams with these characteristics create more holistic solutions that help drive innovation – but what if there was something silently sabotaging your ability as a leader to create your “dream team” of employees?

As humans, our brains process and categorize information very quickly for the purpose of survival. But due to our instincts and inability to consciously process everything at all times, we often react and make decisions based on information that was processed unconsciously. This can manifest as unconscious bias.

When most people think of bias, they think of a negative action taken deliberately. However, unconscious biases can affect your behavior or decisions without you realizing it. For example, we may naturally gravitate toward people of the same race or gender. We may judge people unfairly based on certain physical attributes. Or we may place a higher value on information that we already agree with. When you introduce these unconscious biases into the workplace, the result can be inequities in how team members are treated.

Having an unconscious bias doesn’t make you a bad person – it just means you’re human. By recognizing our own biases and by making a conscious effort to override them, we can break down barriers and become more intentional about embracing and treasuring every employee for their contributions and fostering a fully inclusive workplace where our employees feel like they belong.

At PSCU, we have deliberately focused on increasing diversity and engagement in recent years, making Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) one of our core values. We have created a DEI index as part of our annual engagement survey comprising four questions that, together, assess aspects of inclusion. The four questions are:

  • I always trust my company to be fair to everyone.
  • My supervisor creates an environment that is trusting and open.
  • My company treasures diverse opinions and ideas.
  • If I raised a concern about ethics and integrity, I am confident my employer would do what is right.

For the past fiscal year, our DEI Index score was 4.35 out of 5, with our highest scoring question being “My supervisor creates an environment that is trusting and open” with a score of 4.49. Results also showed DEI perception has improved more significantly for black and female employees and the gaps between genders and racial groups are closing. While we are proud of these results, DEI is a continuous journey. We are always looking for ways to improve and provide resources to our leadership about how to create more diverse and inclusive teams.

Here are some of the ways we encourage our employees to practice DEI. Consider these opportunities as you look to be more consciously inclusive and actively break down unconscious bias in your credit union team.

  • Prepare diverse candidate slates and diverse interview panels. To reduce instances of “groupthink,” leaders should strive to have diverse teams. Ensure that at least 50% of candidate slates for open positions are from an underrepresented talent segment and that you have a diverse group of individuals as part of the hiring team.
  • Give honest, detailed feedback. Make sure that you provide focused and helpful feedback equally across your team. Research shows, for example, that feedback given to women tends to be vague and focused on communication style, while men are given specific feedback that tends to be tied to business goals and technical skills that accelerate advancement.
  • Focus on the work. Try to be aware of those judging thoughts in your head during meetings and even during promotion opportunities as it relates to someone’s appearance. Focus on their work, not their look.
  • Identify your blind spots. Most people search for evidence that backs up their own opinions, rather than looking at the whole picture – it’s human nature! However, this can lead to overlooking other information and instead focusing on things that fit our viewpoint. Build awareness around your own unconscious bias so that it doesn’t control your decision-making.
  • Challenge your beliefs of gender stereotypes. Gender bias often stems from deep-seated beliefs about gender roles and stereotypes. This can cause us to unconsciously lean towards an individual based on their gender and the qualities we associate with it. When thinking about development opportunities or promotions, try to switch the gender of the person you’re thinking about and see if it changes your perception of their readiness.
  • Bridge the generational divide. Sometimes, we make unconscious judgments about individuals based on their age. For instance, being young is often associated with lacking experience or judgment. On the other hand, being older is sometimes equated with being outdated or behind the times. Using terms such as “senior moment” or “rookie” may be in jest, but they can be alienating if the employee is concerned about how their age is portrayed in the workplace.

By learning about our own unconscious bias, we can better understand how we unconsciously interact with others and work toward the conscious inclusion of others in the workplace. Doing so will help employees at your credit union thrive and be more likely to drive innovation, which is critical to keeping up with the ever-evolving financial services industry, as well as the needs and expectations of your members.

Laura Sehres is the Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, providing strategic thought leadership and serving as a key advisor to PSCU’s leadership team and financial institutions on how to best embed DEI practices, improve organizational performance and position PSCU as a DEI industry leader.