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The Language of Leadership: Creating Awareness of Bias

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Recognizing unconscious bias when making talent decisions is an important consideration for 21st century managers. That’s why University Human Resources (UHR) recently partnered with the Clayman Institute for Gender Research to provide a two-hour workshop for Stanford managers to uncover bias in everyday management actions and to build awareness of the tools available to see bias and effectively block it.

The course, led by the Clayman Institute’s Executive Director Lori Mackenzie, offered a practical approach to tackling bias in the workplace and supported a confidential and safe environment to openly discuss how these issues impact Stanford’s managers.

Troy Sutton, a contract manager in Financial Services, was one of 41 Stanford managers who participated in the training. Like many of the attendees, he found the training valuable and walked away with a new perspective on how unconscious bias may impact his everyday decisions as a manager.

“One of the most interesting aspects of the training was how subtle bias in a job posting can substantially impact the gender balance of the candidate pool,” said Troy. “I thought it was a very good course and I would recommend it to other managers.”

During the training, Lori highlighted how the language managers use to describe an employee in their performance evaluation can unintentionally reinforce a stereotype based on race, gender, age, style or other characteristic. She also outlined six solutions leaders could use to reduce bias in the workplace:

  1. Educate yourself and decision makers on bias. Just raising awareness can reduce reliance on stereotypes.
  2. Establish clear criteria in advance of making decisions.
  3. Scrutinize the criteria being used. Is it the right criteria for the decision? Or, does it unintentionally screen out certain kinds of good candidates or outcomes?
  4. Hold decision makers accountable for their decisions. Hold yourself accountable. Explain decisions to others.
  5. Be transparent in progress toward goals. Post numbers and keep track of progress. Ensure that you are valuing, measuring, and recognizing a consistent set of criteria for effective performance.
  6. Vouch for the competence of your employees to those who can help them succeed. Talk about their accomplishments, skills, and contributions, not just generic traits such as “hard-working or helpful.”

Overall, managers walked away impressed by the facilitation and depth of knowledge Lori and her esteemed Clayman Institute team provided.  Lori was equally impressed by how engaged all the managers were to learn about such a compelling issue.

"I feel so honored to work in an environment where so many managers would voluntarily give up their time to learn more about this topic,” stated Lori. “It really makes me proud to be part of Stanford."

For helpful toolkits on how to identify and block bias, visit:

For more information and additional resources about staff career development at Stanford, visit the Manage & Lead section of Cardinal at Work.

Manager Toolkit