You eliminate bias in employment practices by hiring inclusive employees and promoting only inclusive leaders. There are existing tools to accomplish these goals, but they are not always used.
In order to absorb this article, we will have to agree that there is bias in our public safety departments, in varying degrees, systematic or not, and it exists in many forms – in individual employees, in groups of employees, and in the community. To say that bias does not exist is untrue and unrealistic.
Bias exists for this reason: we, as human beings, are faced with too much information. In order to classify, categorize and organize new information when it is initially presented to us, we must use a label or name or category to get a handle on the sheer quantity of information that bombards us.
However, we should never use our initial grouping, classifications, categorizations, or labels to make decisions because these initial categories are always flawed. Let's look at three initial categorizations:
- There is a group of people that are overweight.
- There is a group of people that are smart.
- There is a group of people that are mean.
Okay, let's see why these categories will always be flawed. Let's start with category one. What is overweight? Is a 5'4" person who weighs 160 lbs. all pure muscle and 10% body fat, overweight? This person looks bulky but doesn't belong in an overweight category, or does he/she? How about another 5'4" person weighing 110 pounds with little muscle and 30% body fat? If other people are morbidly obese, do they fit into the category? Is it natural to substitute the label, overweight, with other names such as fat or ugly or unfit?
Category two is even more abstruse. What is smart? Is there an IQ test? Is the IQ test one all people agree with? Is it people who have common sense? Is it a person who is book smart? I could go on and on. Is it natural to substitute the label smart, with geniuses, nerds, or bookworms?
What is mean? Sensitive people may define a mean person someone who looks at them the wrong way. An insensitive person may think no one out there is mean. Is a mean supervisor someone who promoted an employee from a promotional list, skipped over the top-scoring candidate, and then selected the second top-scoring candidate? Is a person mean when they don't invite you to lunch? Is a person mean when they exclude you from a meeting? How might people refer to the group? Jerks, obnoxious, nasty?
So we see that all people categorize differently, using different criteria and that any one category will have misplaced people within it, and the degree to which the wrong people are in that group will naturally equal the degree to which the classification system is broken (e.g., too broad/narrow, clear/unclear, general/specific).
We have proven that human groupings are flawed, but we can acknowledge that a categorization is a tool that can be helpful when large amounts of information are initially bombarding us, such as dozens of people, mobs, sports teams, and so on. But after the initial categorization, the category is mostly harmful to its members.
How do we avoid labeling, categorizing, name-calling, classifying, and stereotyping people in the workplace? Now that we know categorizing is only a first step, we need to ungroup. Then, we can improve by observing one individual's behavior at a time and avoiding combining it with others.
Classification is a learned behavior and is often viewed as lazy behavior. Sometimes our classifications are very biased and demeaning to others, sometimes not. Managing our classifications and declassifying must be learned as well; it takes practice.
Now let us assume you can successfully manage your tendency to classify people. How do all the employees in your organization stop classifying, labeling, grouping, name-calling, stereotyping, and so on? Through LEADERSHIP.
You need two essential qualities to be an inclusive leader – awareness of your natural tendency to group people into categories and a willingness to stop doing it. If you possess these qualities, you have the potential to be an inclusive leader.
When a leader does not know about his/her tendency to categorize, they have implicit biases, and they will tend to create an exclusive environment, that is, an environment that leaves people out of critical activities and decisions. There is a distinct possibility that these leaders can be trained to be made aware of their implicit biases and may have a willingness to change, but there is no guarantee. Some of these leaders are meant to be leaders, but not all.
When a leader does know about his/her groupings, they have explicit biases, and they will tend to create an exclusive environment. There is a distinct possibility that these leaders know their own biases and are more likely to believe in them and find information to confirm their beliefs than to try to change. These leaders are not meant to be leaders.
When you walk into an inclusive public safety department, you know it immediately. Employees welcome you, treat you and their coworkers kindly, jovially, and don't appear to be perpetually angry or resentful. New and existing personnel who are minorities, females, or otherwise different from the majority are welcome.
In order to achieve inclusivity, public safety organizations must select inclusive personnel at the time of hire, and then they must promote those employees into key leadership positions and not settle for exclusive leaders. Second, they must use selection and training tools to identify inclusive employees and leaders. These tools exist, and I have been using them for years.
All public safety departments need to use inclusive selection, promotional procedures, and training to take leaders who do have the potential to be inclusive to their potential.
Dr. Cassi L. Fields is the Vice President of Emergency Services Consulting International (ESCI)