Partner Organizations, Profiles

Facebook: Managing Bias at the Workplace

Unconscious bias is a problem many companies face when trying to create a diverse and inclusive workplace. Research shows people with black-sounding names are less likely to be hired than those with white-sounding names, while female employees who have children are given fewer opportunities and are paid less than their associates. Facebook decided to create a solution to address the detrimental impact of these kinds of biases at their own workplace.

“Our mission at Facebook is to open and connect the world,” said Julnar Rizk, a Learning and Development Partner at Facebook, “and we need to have a wide and diverse force of talent to achieve that mission.”

Facebook worked with many research organizations to design an effective, data driven course on managing bias. The class was launched in late 2014 and eventually branched outside the U.S. The class, which is open to all Facebook employees, encourages them to identify, address and overcome biases to create a supportive and inclusive workplace.

The Four Biases

The Managing Bias class focuses on four common biases:

1) Performance Bias occurs when people in a dominant or majority group are judged on their potential while minorities must have proven accomplishments to be seen or recognized.

2) Performance Attribution Bias occurs when certain people are perceived as being naturally talented, and their success is attributed to this. Other people’s success, however, is attributed to sheer luck. Those who are viewed as “lucky” are less likely to be given credit for ideas and are more likely to be interrupted or ignored.

3) Competence/Likeability Trade-Off Bias revolves around the correlation between success and likeability. A man’s success has a positive correlation with his likeability, while women have a negative correlation. Many cultures and societies enforce the idea that women are supposed to be nurturing and supportive while men are supposed to be the ones who take action. Outgoing and successful women are therefore often disliked and less likely to get promoted.

4) Maternal Bias occurs when working mothers are disliked for not being “nurturing” and for not staying at home to take care of their children. They are also seen as less effective employees since they sometimes have to accommodate for their kids. As a result, working mothers are given fewer opportunities and are paid less than their male or childless co-workers.

Of course, understanding the different types of biases isn’t enough; people also need to learn how to deal with and overcome these biases. That’s why the Managing Bias class offers resources such as Harvard University’s Implicit Association Test, which allows people to see what their own biases are. Members of the class are also given scenarios that they must discuss in groups and practice how they would react in such a situation.

“There is never one right thing to do,” Julnar said, which is why discussing different solutions among a large group of people is extremely useful.

Meeting Goals and Measuring Success

Although the Managing Bias class is not mandatory for Facebook employees, it has an incredible completion rate. Nearly 100% of Facebook’s senior management and 70% of all U.S.-based employees have taken the course.

“People really stood up and took notice. This course really caught their attention,” Julnar said. “So many tech people are data-driven, and this class focuses on research, so we had a great response.

“We had one manager who was male and Caucasian who described the class as ‘personally enlightening.’ He said the class opened his eyes to how unconscious bias affected his everyday interactions, and showed how challenging it is to overcome biases that are so deeply rooted in society.”

The impact of the Managing Bias class is certainly visible. Facebook employees are given feedback surveys immediately after completing the course asking them to rate the class and its content on a scale of 1-5. The results are always on the high end of the scale. Employees are also given an impact survey one or two months after the course to see how much the course has affected them. Many agree that the lessons from the class stick with them, and their actions reflect this sentiment.

“We have people and managers posting and mentioning lessons, and using terms from the class like ‘Interrupt the interrupter,’” said Julnar.

Because their class has been so successful, Facebook has made the class’s slides and videos available to the public. These resources serve as a great starting point; however, it’s important for companies to apply these lessons in their work environments if they are to see real improvement. “Allow for practice,” Julnar advises. “Give your employees the opportunity to apply their knowledge on how to solve the problem.”

Learn more about Facebook’s Managing Bias class.