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Racial bias in organisations

In this video Jean Jimbo and Abadesi Osunsade discuss racial bias within organisations.
<v ->Implicit biases in hiring practises</v> and opportunities for progression are a common area where racial biases show up. This results in the organisation having blind spots in how they operate and build technology. Explicit racial biases, on the other hand, mean that racism might not be taken seriously enough as a problem, thereby encouraging racist biases to filter through into technology and operational practises. Also, explicit racial biases mean that there’s no psychological safety for people to speak up about and mitigate problems where racial biases have been observed. <v ->We see very few People of Colour at board level,</v> C-suite level, senior leadership.
And what research tells us is that affinity bias is a type of bias where we prefer people who look like us, or went to the same university as us, and that’s often why teams are very homogenous, especially leadership teams, but also across the organisation. So, where there’s a lot of influence and power. Another way that you might see racial bias show up in organisations, is actually by looking at tenure versus attrition, churn. Who’s staying and who’s leaving. And what you often find in organisations, especially in tech, where we’re really struggling to improve representation, you will find that the tenured employees are more likely to represent the dominant groups, whether that’s the white, cis, het, male.
And then you’ll find that the folks with the shorter tenure are the folks coming from those unrepresented backgrounds that could be black or brown or another marginalised identity.
<v ->When it comes to hiring practises for example,</v> they can ensure that they promote diversity and diverse ways of thinking. Data suggests that this has a positive effect on profits, as well as the culture of that organisation. <v ->What you can find is that there are</v> some companies who are super advanced in this journey. I’m thinking of maybe Spotify, Airbnb, doing a lot of work to invest in black employees, brown employees, and really employees of all different lived experiences. Whereas there are still a number of tech companies that don’t even have any affinity groups.
Aren’t investing in any diversity and inclusion programmes or training, and aren’t really doing any work to build bridges with grassroots communities focused on supporting the unique needs of these different lived experiences. <v ->They can also consider providing</v> anti-racist education, such as this course and create anti-racist policies. This means providing training that helps staff understand how racial biases affect their products and services. <v ->So one thing that we like to say at Hustle Crew</v> is how can we learn to check our privilege as often as we check our spelling? And I just think if all of us tried this, the world would look remarkably different.
So I think one of the first things that organisations need to do is really just think about that. Like, “Hey, have we actually done the work of mapping our privilege as individuals?” Individuals in a leadership team, individuals in an engineering team. “Have we actually stopped to consider, through the lens of intersectionality, where we fall into dominant groups, and where we actually fall into less represented groups and more marginalised groups?” The reason this exercise is really important is because wherever we have privileges where we are more likely to be biassed, but also unable to see that bias. So at Brandwatch one of the things that we’ve been working on is the language that we use in programming.
We don’t think it’s very fair that we still use terms like master and slave. So we’re doing the work of replacing all of those things. We know that language is really important and we know that the history of Western civilization means that certain people have actually been written out of language, and language still manifests in a way where we assign superiority to whiteness, let’s say, and inferiority to blackness, and that’s really problematic. So, one of the things we’re doing there is to change language.
<v ->Unfortunately, they’re few and far between,</v> as a lot of organisations do not share data and do not share the outcomes of their products when it comes to racism. So unfortunately I do not have a great example at this point in time. But hopefully we will have some in the future. <v ->I think it’s really encouraging</v> to see organisations like, let’s say Starbucks, respond to an incident of racism in one of their stores by closing every single branch and making all employees take that day of paid work to instead attend anti-racism training.
I think, how transformative, to get everyone that is a part of the company culture to go through that event and actually create shared meaning around what it is to be anti-racist as an employee of Starbucks.

In this video, Jean and Abadesi discuss how racial biases show up in organisations, and what strategies companies can use to address this. The discussion offers solutions for organisations to set out strategic improvements, including:

  • Improving hiring practices
  • Supporting affinity groups
  • Supporting anti-racist education and policies
  • Checking privileges as often as you check your spelling
  • Checking the use of language in internal documents, processes and products

Abadesi mentions ‘affinity bias’, which happens when we ‘gravitate toward people like ourselves in appearance, beliefs, and background’ (1).

In the comments section below discuss the following:

  • Can you name any organisations that are effectively tackling racism?
  • Have you observed any of them carrying out solutions suggested here?
  • Remember to read and respond to your fellow learners’ comments.


Lean In, 2021. Understanding affinity bias, one common gender bias women face at work

Further resources: 1. Racial Literacy in Tech

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Anti-Racist Approaches in Technology

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