Facebook’s bias management training

There’s been a lot of talk lately about culture fit. What is culture fit and is it actually even real?  Culture fit to me has a curious likeness to a ‘mob mentality’ i.e. if you don’t fit our gang you can’t belong. As kids, we learn early in life, which are the best groups to ‘belong’ to in the school playground and which aren’t.  This is where we start to cement the human trait we all have of longing to fit in. But this can have an extremely negative effect on our lives and many of us come out of the playground, tarnished by memories of being left out, side lined, bullied even, because we are not the same.

So is cultural fit really a good measuring stick to recruit with? In my mind, culture fit is now outdated, along with employer branding and identity because essentially, these are all mindsets and activities that strengthen a bias that eventually becomes unconsciously used to quickly find the people like us. We then risk leaving out groups of potentials who ‘don’t fit’ but actually may be valuable to our business as employees. Many studies have been done to conclude that a diverse and inclusive working culture is one that performs better than one that is exclusive. Diversity seems to make companies stronger for obvious reasons.

Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 16.39.45 Facebook’s Global Director of Diversity, Maxine Williams, realises this but had her work cut out for her when she was hired in 2013. She started the analysis and commenced building an HR team that could start to roll out ‘Bias Management’ training to attempt to turn Facebook from just another member of the ‘Silicon Valley gang mentality’, into an inclusive and diverse business who respects people from all backgrounds, and more to the point, hires them based on merit. A challenge that has not been easy and only shown modest results so far.

But, for those who are interested and have a bit of time, particularly HR professionals reading this, I recommend you watch the training video (the short version) taken from Facebook’s bias management training website @ https://managingbias.fb.com/, which was subsequently delivered by Maxine and her team. Maxine is quick to let the audience know that some of what they hear will make them uncomfortable, and was difficult to think about let along utter out loud.  But she stresses we all need to make a start and if the right intent is there, then it’s a good starting point. You can also download the slides from the training if you scroll to the bottom of the website. All references to the statistics used in the training video trail the slides.

Facebook  published their employment statistics and are continuing to. Some of the results continue to be ‘pretty damning’ particularly when it comes to hiring women compared to some of their Silicon Valley pals like Indiegogo and eBay, who are actually doing really well. But this has not deterred them as they box on with bias management training because they truly believe that what they are doing is right. They also have the full support of their COO, Sheryl Sandberg and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, who get highly vocal and involved in progressive initiatives like this which helps staff get on board.

Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 17.27.41From the video, a few things became clear to me. They focused on four key biases that they feel affect their performance as a company, although there are many more. One of points that comes up time and time again throughout the presentation is how just being able to talk about bias, is one of the biggest hurdles. When bias is unconscious, most people do not even know they are doing it, let alone the negative impact it can have on people around them, so being able to ‘call out’ a colleague on their behaviour is one of the actions that comes out of the training. It’s an action which could backfire if used unwisely so they stress that the ‘calling out’ needs to be friendly and taken in the manner it is intended.

Not surprisingly, one of the four biases covered was maternal bias and how the assumption is common that women who have children (women, not men) will be less likely to want to take on travel or a new assignment because there is no way they could be a good employee and care about their children – there is just no way. It’s a lose / lose situation for women. If they are good at their job, they must be neglecting their children. If they are a conscientious mother, then they can’t be good at their job as they don’t have the capacity to do both. The same is not true about men. If a man stays at home and looks after their kids, he is often seen as a hero. It’s expected of a woman, but not of a man. This is probably one of the strongest biases we can all relate to, men and women alike. There were some interesting stats published to back this up by the International Labour Organisation answering the question, ‘Should women work at paid jobs, care for their families and homes, or both?’. You will note as you compare from country to country, the attitudes toward women in work change quite dramatically. Have a play around with the statistic tool on this site. How does your country compare with others?

Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 16.38.57The other point that resonated with me is that ‘small changes make a big difference’. Mike Rognlien, Learning & Development Leader for Facebook New York aptly puts it that ‘we all need to be scientists of our own behaviour’ and he himself admits he’s become good at catching himself out and challenging his own unconscious actions. It’s the thinking part that is applied here which is key. You can actually catch yourself out just by thinking about it. Seems simple enough right? In a previous blog and in a similar vein, we discuss Kristen Pressner’s (Global Head of HR, Roche Diagnostics) own self-analysis from a TEDx talk she presented in 2016 called ‘Are you biased? I am.’ She created the #flipittotestit rule herself to check her own biases where she reverses a situation to see how she feels. If she feels weird about it, then she needs to check herself. You can read the full blog here and watch the TEDx talk.

We are all biased and it’s one of those things that is just not going to go away. Some of our biases are very useful for survival but some are better left parked at the door of a meeting or interview. But the small changes we can all make each day in the workplace to make it a better place for everyone, will have a profound effect on the companies we work for. It’s worth a thought. I highly recommend you watch the training and consider the actions that are recommended at the end. Even just one small change in your work day practice could make a big difference to everyone.

(All photographs obtained from video footage at https://managingbias.fb.com/)