How AI Can Reduce Unconscious Bias, So Organizations Can Thrive

Artificial intelligence has the power to reduce unconscious bias out of the performance management process; providing accurate insights into team members’ capabilities so that managers can customize coaching that elevates team performance.

“Unconscious bias – judgments and behaviors toward others that we’re not aware of – is everywhere in our lives,” says an article in the Harvard Business Review. In the workplace, unconscious bias impacts everything from hiring to decision making.

For example, in a recent Yale study, scientists were given two versions of the same resume for a job opening. The resumes were identical – except for the candidate’s first name. The “male” candidate was judged to be more talented and experienced; he was selected for the job more often, and at a higher salary.

Performance management decisions that are influenced by bias can have devastating effects. “Biased performance reviews can hold high-performing employees from reaching their career goals,” says a Training Industry article, “They also create additional barriers for underrepresented groups in the workplace.”

The negative repercussions don’t stop there. Unconscious bias doesn’t just affect individuals. It negatively impacts organizations too, with research showing that unfairness at work costs US employers $64 billion annually.

On the other hand, when unconscious bias is dealt with and organizations diversify their teams – those organizations win. 

For example, when teams include women, they perform up to 95% better. And according to McKinsey research, companies in the top 25% of racial and gender diversity consistently outperform competitors and national standards. These companies experience a 0.8% rise in profits for every 10% increase in racial and ethnic diversity on the senior executive team. 

How can artificial intelligence take unconscious bias out of the performance management process, so managers can make stronger strategic decisions, provide customized coaching, and help their organizations flourish?


The Challenge

Decisions that are influenced by bias are dramatically impacting US organizations and their employees.

For example, women make up 50.8% of the US population, earn 57% of all undergraduate degrees, and 59% of all master’s degrees. And yet, only 6% of fortune 500 CEOs are women. Not only that, but women still get paid significantly less than men

African American and Latinos are dramatically underrepresented in STEM jobs, and African American workers with a college or advanced degree are more likely than their caucasian counterparts to be underemployed when it comes to their skill level, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Not only are these inequalities derailing the careers of qualified workers, they are negatively impacting organizations; decreasing revenue, while significantly driving up costs.

For example, employees who perceive bias are nearly three times as likely to be disengaged at work, and Gallup estimates that active disengagement costs US companies $450 billion to $550 billion per year. Bias also impedes innovation; with those who perceive bias 2.6 times more likely to say that they’ve withheld ideas and market solutions over the previous six months. 

When managers make decisions influenced by bias, they miss opportunities, overlook skills and talents, and fail to take advantage of areas in which their team members could thrive; all negatively impacting an organizations’ results.

Yet, as Kristin Lee, Ed.D. LICSW points out, “there is no such thing as an unbiased person.” We all have unconscious bias that’s influenced by everything from gender to race, ethnicity, weight, religion, and socioeconomic background.

Research shows that unconscious bias actually stems from the brain’s natural survival instinct to look for patterns, make associations, categorize, simplify, and sort information. Because of this, it is nearly impossible to fully rid ourselves of these implicit judgements. As the Harvard Business Review points out, “… it is unlikely that we can eliminate our biases.”

Furthermore, unconscious biases are nearly impossible to measure. “Human decisions are difficult to probe or review,” says McKinsey research, “people… may not understand the factors that influenced their thinking, leaving room for unconscious bias.”

When it comes to performance management, these deeply ingrained, and often overlooked, unconscious biases – no matter how important they once were to our survival – make it almost impossible to take a subjective approach. In fact, psychologists have found that on average, 61 percent of a review is based on the judgements of the person reviewing, rather than the merits of the person receiving the review. 

That is a huge – and dangerous – margin for error.

There is no doubt that unconscious bias is dramatically influencing the decision-making of managers, causing missed opportunities and increased costs that are negatively impacting the organizations they work for.


The Bigger Question: How Can This Change?

Artificial intelligence has the power to transform the accuracy and effectiveness of performance management, taking unconscious bias out of the process. As an article in Bigtincan points out, machine learning “…helps us focus on our more ‘human’ strengths.”

“In many cases, AI can reduce humans’ subjective interpretation of data, because machine learning algorithms learn to consider only the variables that improve their predictive accuracy, based on the training data used,” says McKinsey research, “… some evidence shows that algorithms can improve decision making, causing it to become fairer in the process.”

Experts at Mercer Consulting suggest that as employers invest in artificial intelligence, the technology is expected to play a larger role in helping employers assess their workers. And that means managers’ roles will change. With the help of AI, the consulting firm predicts that the manager role will shift from reviewing past performance to providing individualized coaching for future success.

“The use of complex machine learning algorithms and AI can guide reps and sales managers with recommendations for training and coaching based on their learning style…” says one Gartner article, “introducing artificial intelligence to sales training and coaching can provide a more individualised learning experience that can scale across the organization.”

This means managers will be able to gain invaluable insights into what each of their team members is capable of, and invest more time providing individualized coaching to get them there. 

Of course, spending more time coaching can make a major difference in an organization’s performance. One Sales Management Association Study points out that, “… High performing firms provide more frequent coaching. In fact, high performing firms provide 15 to 20% more coaching compared to other firms, and do so across all salesperson types…”

Artificial intelligence is unlocking major possibilities for managers, team members, and the companies they work for. By leveraging this new technology, organizations have a valuable opportunity at their fingertips. Machine-learning won’t replace managers, it simply frees them from unconscious biases, so that they can become true leaders. 


Unlocking Your Organization’s Potential

We’re here to help you implement actionable AI solutions that take unconscious bias out of the decision making process; helping your managers provide the kind of powerful coaching that goes into every high performance organization.

Through a customized approach that’s shaped to your organization’s unique process and goals, your managers are given up-to-the-minute insights that help them eliminate bias, individualize their coaching strategies, and unlock their team members’ skills and talents.

This way, every employee can live into their full potential, and do their most powerful work on behalf of your organization.



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