Why This Year’s Talent Reviews Are the Perfect Storm for Bias and Discrimination
Calling 2020 an unusual year is an understatement. Social distancing and government lockdowns forced 42 percent of the U.S. labor force (1) into remote work, and concerns about the economy have become a significant source of stress for 70 percent of Americans (2). Such a seismic shift in the workforce has the potential to create the perfect storm for bias and discrimination in this year’s talent reviews. Here’s why:
1. Managers are twice as likely this year to be evaluating employee performance remotely.
While 42 percent of the U.S. workforce is telecommuting, 33 percent is out of work, and the remaining 26 percent are essential service workers who still physically go to work (3). This means that this year, managers are twice as likely to be evaluating employees who work from home versus onsite. For many managers, the opportunity to observe their employees’ performance has shrunk from the usual 40+ hours spent together in the office to a couple of videoconference calls per week.
Research over the past 100 years revealed that gender and racial bias in performance evaluations tend to be very small (4). In the past, frequent daily interactions and plenty of opportunities to observe employees’ performance probably washed out initial stereotypes. But with interactions now limited to a few Zoom meetings, emails, or Slack messages, and less information, managers have less everyday information to go off of, so they may revert back to relying more heavily on stereotypes. Therefore, though performance ratings (as opposed to potential ratings) have not been influenced by bias much in the past, as managers begin evaluating more remote workers, there’s a good chance that bias will creep into the equation.
2. Employee potential ratings are already significantly biased.
Though gender and racial bias in performance evaluations have historically been small, the same cannot be said when it comes to evaluations of an employee’s potential. In our research, Repairing the Broken Rung, we’ve seen firsthand how unconscious bias can sneak into ratings of employees’ potential when information about the person is limited (5). We discovered that men are 3x more likely to be rated as high-potential employees than their equally capable women colleagues, and White men are 2x more likely to be rated as high-potential employees than Black men.
Ratings of employee potential offer a prime example of just how easily bias can slip into the talent reviews process. Given the nature of our new virtual workplaces, this bias will likely be amplified.
3. This year’s heightened stress can lead to many more poor judgments.
Normally, when making a judgment, such as a performance rating, the first voice we hear comes from our gut (6). It gives us the quick, simple, instinctive answer. But we know that it’s not always the right answer, so we engage our logical brain to evaluate it. We check our assumptions, contrast the gut feeling with additional information, do more research, or think through a different scenario. Only after a careful evaluation do we approve and finalize our decision.
Unfortunately, the normal process falls apart when people are under stress. When we get stressed, our logical brain switches off, and our gut feelings go unchecked. Research shows that stressed people make decisions faster, consider fewer alternatives, and strategize less (7). They become more impulsive and that’s when unconscious biases thrive.
The Perfect Storm for Bias and Discrimination:
With 70 percent of Americans concerned about the economy and almost half of American parents reporting high levels of stress during the pandemic, the possibility of poor judgment is greatly increased (8). Combined with the limited opportunities to observe the performance of remote workers, it may just create the perfect storm for bias and discrimination in this year’s talent reviews, which have already been subject to a lot of legal scrutiny (9).
While the increased potential for bias and discrimination during talent reviews in 2020 poses a significant challenge for many employers, the solution is simple: bring more objective data to the talent review process in the form of standardized employee assessments.
By alleviating the pressures of evaluating performance and potential through virtual observation, you can help managers make the talent review process easier and bias-free.
(1) University, Stanford. “A Snapshot of a New Working-from-Home Economy,” June 26, 2020. https://news.stanford.edu/2020/06/29/snapshot-new-working-home-economy/.
(2) “Stress in America 2020.” American Psychological Association. American Psychological Association, May 2020. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2020/report.
(3) University, Stanford. “A Snapshot of a New Working-from-Home Economy.” Stanford News, June 26, 2020. https://news.stanford.edu/2020/06/29/snapshot-new-working-home-economy/.
(4) DeNisi, Angelo S., and Kevin R. Murphy. “Performance appraisal and performance management: 100 years of progress?.” Journal of Applied Psychology 102, no. 3 (2017): 421.
(5) “Repairing the Broken Rung: Overcoming Bias in the Leadership Pipeline.” Pinsight, March 17, 2020. https://www.pinsight.com/lp/repairing-the-broken-rung-overcoming-bias-in-the-leadership-pipeline/.
(6) Holt, Jim. “Two Brains Running.” The New York Times. The New York Times, November 25, 2011. https://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/27/books/review/thinking-fast-and-slow-by-daniel-kahneman-book-review.html.
(7) Yu, Rongjun. “Stress Potentiates Decision Biases: A Stress Induced Deliberation-to-Intuition (SIDI) Model.” Neurobiology of Stress. Elsevier, February 12, 2016. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352289515300187.
(8) “Stress in America 2020.” American Psychological Association. American Psychological Association, May 2020. https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2020/report.‹ Previous PostNext Post ›