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Engaged HR is pleased to welcome guest blogger and DisruptHR speaker Dr. Lisa Gunderson of One Love Consulting. Lisa‘s blog outlines her talk “Please Don’t Touch My Hair” at DisruptHR 2.0 with the full length video available below. 

As of 2015, Statistics Canada calculated that small and medium businesses accounted for 90.3% of the total private labour force. A 2017 Canadian research study by Rupa Banerjee and colleagues found that small and medium size businesses were more likely to engage in discriminatory behaviour to racialized candidates. Specifically, when an Asian name appeared on a resume with the exact same credentials as an “Anglo-named applicant”, the Asian named applicant was more likely to experience discrimination. For example, compared with an Anglo-named applicant the Asian-named applicant had:

  • 40% less chance of being called for an interview (20% less in a larger organization – 500+ employees).
  • 29% less chance of being called for an interview even when they had a Master’s degree, compared with an Anglo-named applicant with NO Master’s degree.

Research is clear that an equitable and diverse workforce leads to consumer and employee satisfaction and a stronger bottom line. While we engage in training to address various degrees of harassment and more explicit bias, we typically miss a direct discussion on the impact of implicit or unconscious bias in the workplace. Dr. Derald Sue states that this unconscious bias may come out as microaggressions – “daily verbal, behavioural, or environmental slights, snubs, or insults.” Microaggressions come in 3 forms: (1) microinvalidations (disconforming messages), (2) microinsults and (3) microassaults (old-school discrimination). These microaggressions disproportionately impact minoritized talent and directly impact HRs ability to recruit and retain a diverse and equitable workforce.

HR needs to look at itself and how implicit/unconscious bias impacts the workplace. Here are four suggestions:

1. Increase awareness of bias: A large body of research states just being aware of the existence of implicit bias and understanding how implicit bias can affect our perceptions and behaviour is helpful in understanding how it impacts the workplace.

2. Go beyond flea-dip training: Engaging in one 3-hour training session once a year is NOT enough. Engaging in a long-term strategy where you invest your organization’s most precious resources – Time, Money, and Personnel – is critical to truly deal with the biases within your organization. Customized trainings should help you focus on your organization’s strengths and unique challenges. At some point, personnel at every level must engage in professional development to have an organizational shift. Training in this manner has to be a deliberate and conscious decision, not merely a box to check.

3. Engage in systemic change: Management/administration must clearly articulate the kind of culture they want in their organization and support the culture with its resources. When engaging in the conversation, you have to look at both the individual and institutionalized biases that are systemically impacting your organization. This includes reviewing all policies, procedures, and the overall culture of the organization. If your culture is not prepared properly and rooted in its mission and vision, all the strategies you attempt to implement will be lost because culture swallows strategy.

4. Look in the mirror: We all share responsibility for the inequities in our organization. It is not someone else’s problem, it is ours! We each have a personal responsibility to understand our own power and privilege and how it impacts us. You have to take responsibility and then ask the same of the organization. Remember, the organization is “us”.

Discrimination is not a new area for HR to tackle, but we do need a new plan. Go beyond the platitudes of diversity, fairness, equality, and inclusion and ask just one question – Is your organization ready to face their unconscious biases head on?  Say “Yes”…It’s time.

Learn more with Dr.G’s 5 minute DisruptHR Talk “Please Don’t Touch My Hair”.

Disclaimer: All content provided in this blog is the opinions expressed by the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts, intentions, plans or strategies of Engaged HR.

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