JMSB associations fighting gender-based bias in business

A guide to recognizing and addressing bias in the workplace

Hoping to empower students about to enter the workforce, JMWL and JHMA co-hosted a workshop outlining how to spot and dismantle bias. File Photo Emanuele Barbier

As the second semester of online learning ramps up, many business students are finding themselves in the middle of recruitment season. Being a new hire is difficult not just during COVID-19, but also because students and recent graduates often find it difficult to speak up about the lack of diversity in the professional world.

The John Molson Women in Leadership and the John Molson Human Resources and Management Association collaborated to bring students an event titled Uncovering Bias Among Us on Jan. 25. Its mission, according to JMWL co-president Alexie Lee, was to empower women and other groups in the workforce beyond just the hiring process.

The event brought together panelists from Bombardier, KFC, Success Finder and Ceridian to discuss how companies address bias in the workplace. Bias is broad by nature, but the ways it often manifests is through sexism, ageism and racism. What’s more, bias is often unconscious. With so many facets to overcome, where do you start?

The answer, according to Linda Grey-Noble, manager at Ceridian, is to start with yourself. “What’s important as professionals is to recognize where you may have bias and where you are seeing it occur,” said Grey-Noble. Even if bias is unconscious, we can correct it. It’s not a curse forever. 

How do you notice bias in a professional setting? Nivera Wallani, manager at KFC Canada, says it starts with an inner dialogue. “When you think about the team that you’re in, does everyone in your team look like you? Do they have the same perspectives that you do, whether it be religious, political or about the environment?” 

Wallani explained that once you’ve analyzed the situation, it’s time to ask yourself why your team is the way it is. Often, bias manifests in the exclusion of a certain group, such as women or People of Colour. Having known what it’s like to be the only female on a project, Wallani said that addressing this exclusion is key to overcoming biases.

“When you think about the team that you’re in, does everyone in your team look like you?” — Nivera Wallani

So, how do you overcome this bias now that you’ve identified it? It can be a sensitive topic to navigate with team leaders or managers, but the speakers emphasized the need for communication and transparency. “One trick I would give,” said Jade Dagenais of Bombardier, “is to let people tell their story.” Getting to know the people you work with gives you chances to break down your own bias and is often reciprocated on the other end. 

This is fine for dismantling bias from person-to-person, but how does an organization take action so that every person experiences the difference? Well, this comes from companies creating systems to address bias, like KFC Canada’s Diversity Inclusion Council. As Janet Joubran from KFC Canada explained, this council is tasked with updating the mission and vision of Yum! Brands’ internal support center. Giving employees a platform to discuss inclusivity and bias has been integral in resolving conflicts in the workplace, she explained.

Finally, an interesting frontier for dismantling bias in the workplace is tools for objective recruitment and promotion. Amanda Fleising, director of marketing and communications for Success Finder, a company who builds data-driven HR solutions, explained that companies are shifting their human resources to more objective measurement. 

“How do people get selected and promoted? It’s not just opinions anymore,” Fleising said. Data plays a key role in determining which roles people fill, but the analysis of data still gives room for bias. “The whole issue is homogeneity of groups. Is it, for example, a bunch of white men looking at the data and processes?” Data solutions for HR might be objective in the data they collect, but a diverse group is still needed to analyze and implement strategies free of bias.

For students interested in more events about empowering women in leadership, JMWL is hosting an event called Rising Through the Ranks in February. JHMA will be hosting an event called Fuel Your Future for students looking for job and networking opportunities.