Bias and Microaggression in the Remote Landscape

By Dan Green and VOICE

The inception of fully remote and highly distributed workforces has given interpersonal relationships a new significance. The process of building relationships now looks drastically different than even a few months ago. Ask yourself, what is the first thing I do after meeting someone new? Is the answer asking for their twitter handle, or IG profile? Either way, the days of writing phone numbers on napkins are long gone. 

It is arguable that social media, profile screening, and video-based communication can help foster and build new relationships, and there is no doubt that it can bring people together at a rate unlike any other. That said, what do we lose when all we use to make decisions on relationships is the screen in front of us? Today, I’d like to take a closer look at the adopted human tendencies quickly turning into habit when as a result of the somewhat forced distance between us. 

Implicit Bias 

Also known as “Unconscious Bias,” are the attitudes and stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. This type of bias is extremely powerful because it is a part of human nature for a person to have certain views and opinions on things that matter to them, even if they might not understand why they feel the way that they do. 

This bias can shape behavior and greatly influence interactions, and if left unexamined, it can cause a great deal of pain to those around us. Understanding this about one’s self takes practice and there are many that believe that it cannot be achieved at all through self-analysis.  

“These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control. Residing deep in the subconscious, these biases are different from known biases that individuals may choose to conceal for the purposes of social and/or political correctness. Rather, implicit biases are not accessible through introspection.” – American Bar Association

Regardless of what the experts think, I prefer to believe in the ability humans have to change and overcome a bias such as this above, in the words of Kevin Garnett “anything is possibleeeee!” 

Microaggression 

A subtle but offensive comment or action directed at a minority or other nondominant group that is often unintentional or unconsciously reinforces a stereotype. In everyday conversations, it’s easy to take a jab at a marginalized group, even if you’re unaware of it or mean no harm.  

According to Derald Wing Sue, in his book Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation, stereotypes are associated with people and groups from all walks of life and no one person is truly safe from the possibility of being thrown into a bucket. This type of aggression can be expressed in anything that seems sexist, racist or simply offensive to a particular group.  

I’m sure you’ve heard people say, “I can’t help it”, or “I didn’t mean it that way.” Those excuses don’t matter. What matters is the damage that minimizing other people’s right to humanity can do. It can also prohibit a person from bringing their entire self to work, which at the end of the day, has a monumental effect on the performance and potential of your new employees.  

Allyship and Onboarding 

It’s simply too early to tell if things will ever return to normal in terms of communication and relationship building in the workplace. Prior to the pandemic, remote work was widely considered a perk. Now, I would not be surprised if it becomes a basic standard of employment across the board.  

After months of Zoom meetings, I can tell you where the spoons and glasses are located in a handful of my colleagues’ homes. Due to the remote nature of onboarding it is easy to get carried away with what people are wearing, or how their hair looks because you don’t know anything about them, other than what you see. Personally, I act differently when I’m at home with friends versus being in the office with co-workers. However, lines between these behaviors are beginning to blur. Now that we’re able to take a closer look at our colleagues and their lifestyles, we begin to form stereotypes, or in this case a bias. We can’t help it, right?  

Onboarding is the first impression of things to come in an organization and finding ways to make onboarding inclusive will be vital as companies continue to facilitate fully remote processes. It starts with minimizing the space in which microaggression and stereotypes can reside. Here are 7 steps you can take: 

Purposefully schedule meetings and info sessions with diverse individuals during the onboarding process.  

  • There is not a lot of context when onboarding new hires, especially when people are meeting for the first time. Set the right tone visually and give information a chance to catch up later in the process.   

Use a digital background on Zoom while onboarding.  

  • From a social standpoint, everyone might not feel comfortable virtually inviting you into their home. If you set the example and let people know that it’s okay to privatize their living space it helps create a safe place, in addition to minimizing room for bias.   

Develop bias training. 

  • Work with your internal L&D, and HR teams to develop core bias training for new hires and behavioral interviewing training for tenured employees. Remind people that they are only human and that this training is to keep new hires and employees aware of that simple fact.  

Leverage your internal marketing team.

  • When it comes to the distribution of information, members of the marketing team should be in the BFF category. With any learning and development like training or engagement such as bias training, partnering with marketing boost awareness in addition to developing visual content that will entice people to participate. 

Invite new hires to employee engagement-oriented events or internal resource groups on day 1. 

  • Resource groups go a long way in the development of an inclusive workspace. Having any early opportunity to connect with likeminded individuals in a professional setting will bring a level of comfort to new hires and will encourage them to get involved in other ways. 

Ask new hires if they’re comfortable picking up their new equipment in person. 

  • Provide an opportunity for safe in-person interactions. Even if they are only meeting with the lone IT specialist. Seeing the office or workspace is a great way to build optimism and combat the feeling of isolation.  

Support and promote wellness and quality of life.

  • If mental health is not on the docket, get moving now! Hours of screen time can cause fatigue and mental lapses. Make sure that your new hires know that there are programs that offer an escape from these types of things.   
  • Crowd source this internally, discover what people do at home to get away from the everyday grind for short periods of time. Find out what colleagues live in proximity, gauge the comfort level, then facilitate opportunities for employees to connect in person.  A unified front on quality of life will help retain employees in the future.  

Allyship during the onboarding process is critical, and making people feel comfortable will never go out of style. One of the best ways to become an ally is to participate in and practice inclusive behaviors. This may feel somewhat contradictory but start by taking advantage of the distance between us to learn about yourself first. We are all people. We make mistakes and judgments each and every day, but if you can better understand what it is that drives microaggression and bias for you personally, you’re one step closer to creating a truly inclusive workplace culture. 

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