World Trust

Why is Google Addressing Unconscious Bias?

Posted by Adwoa Gyimah-Brempong on October 21, 2014

No racists, no problem. Right?Google_addresses_unconscious_bias
“This is a pretty genteel environment, and you don’t usually see outright manifestations of bias,” says Laszlo Bock, head of human resources at Google. Sound familiar?  

As a leader responsible for diversity and inclusion, you may have seen how “no outward manifestation of bias” can translate into institutional apathy about diversity education. If no one is engaging in overtly segregated hiring or using racial slurs, there is little urgency. So why is Google training all employees and pushing hard for a cultural shift?

Addressing the pipeline is not enough
Despite years of good intentions to hire a more diverse employee base, Google’s work force is just 2% black and 3% Hispanic, and 30% female. Google had begun to address the external factors years earlier, or so it thought, by sponsoring programs to increase the number of women and minorities who go into tech. At World Trust, we see this is common first approach across sectors. “What do we neeed to do to hire X percentage people of color?”

Univeristies set up programs to build relationships with high schoolers of color, healthcare organizations work to recruit physicians of color. These programs are an admirable, necessary component of addressing  external factors that perpetuate inequity. However, they are only half of the systemic equation. Institutions that take a systemic approach also take a hard look at the internal factors that are holding them back.

A pervasive barrier to progress
For help understandng and addressing the internal, cultural factors that impeded change, Bock turned to social science. At Google, Mr. Bocksuspected that the more pernicious bias was most likely pervasive and hidden, a deep-set part of the culture rather than the work of a few.”

His readings on unconscious or "implicit" bias led him to first question, then seek to address a corporate culture that perpetuates inequity -- however insidiously – toward women and people of color. 

Diverse teams are more effective
Why is this important to Google? Improving diversity is no longer just a feel-good goal for the company, or any institution. Citing research that shows diverse teams can be more creative than homogeneous ones, Mr. Bock argued that a diverse work force could be good for Google’s business.

In addition, changing demographics are not in favor of mono-ethnic workplaces and the exclusion of talent that they represent. The title of last year’s World Bank Group Report, “Inclusion Matters: The Foundation for Shared Prosperity,” strongly makes that point.

“There are substantial costs – social, political, and economic – to not addressing the exclusion of entire groups of people,” write the authors of the report. Maitreyi Bordia Das, lead author of the World Bank Report, goes a step further. “It’s important to understand why – to uncover the reasons behind exclusion. And there are many creative ways of doing that.”  

An exercise in long-term culture change
This work at Google has had its fits and starts. But after a company-wide lecture aimed at convincing skeptical engineers that bias does exist, awareness seems to be leading toward change -- at least anecdotally. Recently, after a sexist comment was made during an all-company presentation, a senior executive in the crowd shouted “unconscious bias!”

These shifts in awareness, from water cooler conversation up to the highest level of management, are what can contribute to overall cultural change. Google continues to pioneer at the leading edge of technology and business innovation.

Mr. Bock has successfully challenged apathy about diversity education.  The company acknowledges that their continued success depends on an institutional culture that allows all individuals, regardless of gender or ethnicity, to thrive. If everyone in your organization understood the impact of unconscious bias, would you experience more support for your diversity goals?

Ready to begin tackling unconscious bias in your institution? Use film, dialogue and art-centered learning for a diversity event that engages a broad audience. Learn more by downloading the paper below.

Download "Addressing Unconscious Bias" from World Trust


Topics: Talk about Race, Unconscious Bias, Diversity Initiative, Tech