Companies Work to Identify and Disarm Implicit Bias

For the first time, Kaiser Permanente (Fair360, formerly DiversityInc Hall of Fame Company)is partnering with the American Bar Association to host an event about how industries can combat implicit bias: The Neutralizing Implicit Bias (NIB) Colloquium.

“By addressing bias and creating a more inclusive work environment, we are unleashing the full power of our highly diverse workforce to create the innovative solutions we need to thrive in a rapidly evolving and highly competitive health care marketplace,” Ronald Copeland, M.D., Senior Vice President and Chief Equity, Inclusion & Diversity Officer at Kaiser Permanente, told Fair360, formerly DiversityInc. “We are creating a more inclusive environment that will create high employee commitment, creativityand satisfaction. It will help us attract and retain the best people in a highly competitive job market. And ultimately, it will enable Kaiser Permanente to continue to deliver excellent, affordable, equitable care and service to our members, patients, and communities when and where they need it.”

Implicit bias, or what Fair360, formerly DiversityInc’s CEO, Carolynn Johnson, calls “unchecked bias,” is the first step toward explicit discrimination, and one of the most insidious problems affecting workplaces worldwide. While implicit bias may start as mostly unconscious thoughts and preferences for or against certain people or groups, it usually leads to outward discrimination, according to social science researchers.

“This is not just a women’s problem, Latinx or Black people’s problem, but is a shareholder problem and directly impacts a company’s profitability,” Johnson said.  “According to the Center for American Progress, race, gender and sexual orientation discrimination lawsuits cost businesses $64 billion in 2019 alone. That amount is specific to direct expenses associated with losing and replacing more than two million American workers. That does not take into account indirect expenses that lead to lost productivity.”

Related Article: Kaiser Permanente: Chief Nursing Executive Welcomed at Moanalua Medical Center

While discussing implicit biases and trainings can help, actionable solutions and changes in policies are the most powerful ways to “de-bias,” according to a 2016 study by the Center for Open Science, which found that the positive effects of implicit bias training disappeared within hours or days. Participants quickly went back to discriminatory practices.

Close to 80 leaders and researchers involved in healthcare, law, business and education will attend The Neutralizing Implicit Bias Colloquium at Kaiser Permanente’s North California Regional Offices in early 2021.

According to the Perception Institute, there are multiple ways to start fighting implicit biases. One is by not perpetuating damaging stereotypes in media and pop culture. Another one is establishing policies and procedures that directly affect decision-making and the way a company operates. Changing policies and procedures is partly what the NIB Colloquium is all about.

“Our view is that this conference is the next stage in the movement to remediate implicit bias. A great deal of work has been done to understand the physiologic basis of implicit bias, and various organizations and experts have begun to devise neutralizing strategies,” Mark Zemelman, Senior Vice President and General Counsel at Kaiser Permanente, told Fair360, formerly DiversityInc. “The natural next step is to bring together those who are involved with the development of neutralizing strategies to collaborate. We hope that this conference is the beginning of an ongoing program to track and share techniques.”

Kaiser Permanente has taken several steps over the years to specifically fight implicit biases in the company, including training for employees to help them recognize their own unconscious biases. The company is also working on implementing training for leaders in the company so they can mitigate how their biases might be impacting their decision-making and communication so they can ultimately change how they direct and talk to their departments.

“This specific training is part of a larger inclusive climate shift program with the goal of significantly improving how our employees feel about their employee experience and increasing their level of sustained positive impact for their teams and the organization,” Copeland said.


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