Tackling bias in business
Bias is inevitable whenever business leaders make decisions based on their experiences and the available data.
"It's impossible to capture the entirety of existence in data or one person's experience," says Carolyn Tang Kmet, senior lecturer at Loyola University Chicago's Quinlan School of Business and an instructor in Quinlan's Next Generation MBA program. "Biases of many kinds creep into business decisions because we are all human. Business leaders need to be aware of this and actively address it."
Bias can have profound impacts from decreasing business profitability to negatively impacting entire communities, particularly people of color and those with fewer economic resources.
Below, Kmet shares how business leaders can work toward eliminating bias from their decision making.
Recognize that it exists
"Once we understand that we don't have a full set of data and that the potential for bias exists, we can compensate for that," says Kmet. By recognizing the potential for bias, leaders think more critically about their data, its limitations, and how it may lead to flawed or unethical decisions. They also consider what assumptions they are making based on their own experience.
"Every decision is an opportunity for business leaders to address bias to the best of their ability," Kmet says, adding, "It is also an opportunity to meet American society's growing expectation that business help repair the inequities perpetuated by U.S. corporate culture."
Bring in additional stakeholders
Once leaders identify what experiences are missing from the decision-making process, they can engage people who can ensure a fuller conversation. Colleagues from within the business, the board of directors, and underrepresented stakeholders are natural places to start. "The point is that decisions should not depend solely on the experience of a single individual," says Kmet.
Consider potential impacts
Considering all the impacts of business decisions also helps identify bias. Businesses should consider the financial impact, as well as the impact on the environment and communities. "True leadership has to do more with the progress of society as a whole as opposed to the profitability of a single company," says Kmet. "But even if you limit your perspective to only the financial impact, business can't thrive without a healthy marketplace."
Remedy the bias
To tackle bias more systemically, leaders should educate others to recognize potential bias and how it could be influencing their thinking and strategy. It also requires humility: "We should always try to approach the best answer within our human limitations," says Kmet. "That's what leadership calls us to do, even when it's not easy."