Facebook Trains Employees on How to Manage Unconscious Bias

Maxine Williams, the social network’s global head of diversity, discusses the harm in stereotypes

Maxine Williams, Facebook's global head of diversity

In an effort to combat the social network’s reputation towards exclusion of minorities and women, Facebook released a series of videos to help employees recognize the subtleties of bias and discrimination in the workplace.

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“Research shows that individuals and organizations that believe they are meritocratic often have the poorest outcomes. That’s because when biases aren’t acknowledged, we can’t deal with them,” reads a statement on the site managingbias.fb.com. “Our goal in publishing this portion of our managing bias training is to achieve broader recognition of the hidden biases we all hold, and to highlight ways to counteract bias in the workplace.”

Maxine Williams, a Trinidad and Tobago native and global head of diversity at Facebook, is overseeing the training. She told USAToday.com that 90% of Facebook’s senior leadership and a “high” rate of managers have taken the course. The training is rolling out more slowly to the rest of the work force.

The videos discuss four common types of bias that prevent employees from cultivating an inclusive and innovative workplace: performance bias, performance attribution bias, competence/likeability trade-off bias, and maternal bias.

Here are a few of the lessons taught in the video:

On performance attribution bias
When it comes to decision-making, unconscious biases cause some people to be perceived as “naturally talented” whereas others are presumed to have “gotten lucky.” People on the receiving end of this bias are less likely to receive credit for their ideas, are interrupted more often during team interactions, and have less influence on teams.

On competence/likeability trade-off bias
Research shows that success and likeability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. Women are expected to be nurturing and care-taking while men are expected to be assertive and action-oriented. Having to produce results and be liked makes it harder for women to get hired and promoted, negotiate on their own behalf, and exhibit leadership.

On maternal bias
Research shows that women who are mothers experience an unconscious bias in the workplace that fathers and women without children do not. Mothers are disliked when not seen as nurturing mothers and given fewer opportunities.

Facebook’s managing bias site recommends that other tech companies should consider using the videos as a “framework for action” by adding to or amending the content based on challenges relevant to their organizations. “A lot of companies don’t have the resources to build this kind of training and we are happy to give it to them,” says Williams.