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Actions Talent Development Can Take Now to Reduce Bias

Updated: Jun 18, 2023

posted Summer 2020

The last weeks have been full. Full of passion, hurt, grief, turmoil, anger, shock, frustration, sadness, shame. This is an important time for our country: a way overdue time for our country. The racism, prejudice, degradation and discrimination must stop.

I want to take a moment to acknowledge that the life I've been privileged to experience is different than the lives and expectations of my Black friends and colleagues. And I hate that. I am owning that I do not and will not ever fully understand the walk you've been walking. But I am seeking to learn and make changes to how I think, speak and what I do that will support you better and differently.

I want to raise a call to my fellow Talent Development colleagues about the change that we effect directly within organizations. I read an article by President Obama that calls us to take action in the form of voting to elect leaders that will effect criminal justice, police and other civil reforms. The Obama Foundation also provides resources to learn, engage and take action. One thing that struck me about this article was that while it's time to be passionate and take a stand, the next step is to take proactive action. Similarly, as Talent Development Professionals, we are in a unique position to make changes to existing processes and programs that will effect real change to lower prejudice and bias, and create awareness in our organizations. Let's translate the momentum being generated into workplace practices that will remove inherent bias and discrimination in talent practices. Here are three areas we impact directly in which we can effect change now.

Reducing Bias in Performance Management

Performance management is an area rife with implicit, and let's face it, explicit bias. By nature of the exercise, we are measuring performance and applying judgement.

  • In appraisals, require demonstrative, observable, specific, measurable feedback and guidance, moving away from subjective observations, such as "she had an amazing year."

  • Consider rating specific skills or behaviors versus the more general "meets expectations" or "exceeds expectations," especially if the expectations have not been well documented and made available to the employee.

  • Open boxes on appraisals invite greater subjectivity, allowing for comments that are vague and don't provide specific guidance about what was done well or could use improvement.

  • Skip the self-evaluations. They tend to sway managers' ratings - those who are more eloquent may skew a rating upward and vice versa.

Reducing Bias in Talent Acquisition

Interviews during the hiring or assessment process are another area that's ready for innovative thinking on reducing bias.

  • Build in a blind virtual process so that interviewers don't see the name or picture of those being interviewed. A classic example of this was the introduction of the blind auditions instituted by symphony orchestras in the 1970s to combat biases toward certain schools and gender discrimination (1).

  • Require a diverse slate of candidates for every job opening and a diverse slate of interviewers.

Reducing Bias in Talent Development Activities

Talent Development offers a broad swath of options to close the gap on bias in talent systems.

  • Begin a mentoring program and anchor it around allyship.

  • Proactively pair executives with a coach from a different background and ethnicity when a new cycle of coaching begins.

  • Invest time in stay interviews. Find out what keeps employees at an organization and what frustrates them, so you can help leaders keep talent engaged.

  • In talent reviews or nine-box discussions, include awareness of the halo and horn effect to ensure that the discussion is well rounded about individual talent.

  • Facilitate identification of talent review criteria at the beginning of a talent review, post it front and center and refer to it frequently throughout the discussion.

These ideas are a beginning. Engage your innovation, do your homework and begin introducing changes that will create new conversations, reset expectations and initiate lasting change. Finally, share those changes with others - pass along what works and what's becoming a best practice for you. I also hope you'll join me here by signing up below and posting a comment with your ideas. It's beyond time for changes. Let's start now.


(1) Mason, Betsy. "Curbing Implicit Bias: What Works and What Doesn't." Discover, 5 June 2020,


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