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"Bias" is an inclination of temperament or outlook to present or hold a partial perspective, and a refusal to consider the possible merits of alternative points of view. Biases can range from unconscious bias (biases that are hardwired in our brains and of which we are unaware) to conscious biases (those which we may know exist or even actively encourage).


Relevant biases for the talent management discussion are the four outlined below, which we are introducing at the beginning of this section as they impact, among others, candidate selection, performance management, career management, and succession management. They are often manifested and can be mitigated as follows.


  • Similarity Bias. There are numerous types of rater biases but, from the standpoint of diversity and inclusion, the most relevant rater bias is similarity bias. This is the tendency to more favorably judge those people perceived as similar to the person doing the judging. This bias is often unconscious in nature and, as such, can be especially difficult to address. Some organizations attempt to address this bias by providing training or job-aids that help employees to identify common biases before they make important decisions on talent (i.e., performance ratings, or promotion or succession management decisions). In addition, some organizations will also seek multiple sources of information on a given employee, so as to reduce the likelihood that one person’s potential biases will unduly influence critical decisions about another person.
  • Self-Rater Bias. This is when an individual’s self-evaluation is not objectively based on accomplishments. Self-ratings are based on a combination of each individual’s personality, culture, gender norms, etc.—and can lead to over- or underrating. Those who are reviewing the self-rating may want to reflect on the rating they would give that person, given the knowledge they have at that point, before looking at the person’s self-evaluation. A 360-degree feedback assessment can also help to combat self-rater bias.
  • Structural Bias. These biases are found in and reinforced by organizational structure or processes, and can be detrimental to the strength of a diverse talent pipeline. For example, the composition of the selection committee for new hires may influence the types of individuals chosen. This was the case at BAE, the U.S. arm of BAE Systems when the company implemented a change in 2011 whereby a “woman or a person of color now participates in interview panels for potential middle managers and executives.” After this change was implemented, the number of women and people of color in senior management rose nearly 10 percent. This is just one example of the many ways in which structural bias may exist in an organization.
  • Calibration Bias. When conducting performance or talent reviews, a calibration process may be put in place to create a curve in which a limited number of people can be at the top. The comparative nature of calibration, and the group decision process that accompanies it, can introduce bias into the process. For example, a specific leader with certain biases might impose her view on the group. Alternatively, the raters might judge the dominant group as being superior due to having a common set of values. Establish a clearly defined process for identifying and discussing bias throughout the calibration process to yield a more objective comparison between people. Create clear norms for discussion and decision-making to mitigate power dynamics that could interfere with a fair decision process.


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