AMC employees team up against unconscious bias in the workplace

By Kari HawkinsJune 14, 2022

AMC Employees Embrace Diversity
Embracing diversity in both its Soldier and Civilian ranks is a priority for the Army as it continues to build its force strength. In support of Army goals, Army Materiel Command headquarter’s Office of Diversity and Leadership provided training to review how unconscious bias can affect diversity, equity and inclusion in the workforce. The online Leader Professional Development program broke attendance records and caused AMC Human Resources (G-1) to offer three training sessions. (U.S. Army Graphic) (Photo Credit: U.S. Army Graphic) VIEW ORIGINAL

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- A Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Unconscious Bias training session offered at the Army Materiel Command’s headquarters at Redstone Arsenal has broken attendance records for its Leader Professional Development program.

The training session was offered by AMC Human Resources (G-1) three times in early June to accommodate 600 employees who signed up to attend online via Army 365 Teams. The high level of interest is indicative of societal concerns related to how individuals treat each other, said Tora Henry, deputy director and Equal Employment Opportunity program manager of AMC’s Office of Diversity and Leadership.

“Unconscious bias is not just a buzz phrase anymore. We are witnessing firsthand, via the news mediums that the U.S. at large is experiencing unfair treatment of others, and sometimes, dignity and respect is not granted to all. I believe people want to see a change,” Henry said.

Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and affinity groups, and these biases stem from one's tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing, according to the Office of Diversity and Outreach at the University of California-San Francisco. Unconscious bias can work in favor of or against diverse people.

The goal of AMC’s Leader Professional Development training focused on unconscious bias is to make employees aware of unconscious biases and how these biases can affect their co-workers and the workplace.

“It is our hope that employees leave this training with new information and perspectives that will challenge their conditioned thoughts, and afford them an opportunity to practice greater self-awareness, empathy for others and build new relationships,” Henry said.

Changing cultural norms within society begins with individuals who are focused on self-awareness and practice self-reflection, she said.

“Many see the importance of starting with themselves,” Henry said. “They want to hear other views and perspectives. They want to hear from members of other social groups. We can only change ourselves, and no one else. Our workforce just wants to understand how to create a work culture and environment where all feel valued, needed and an important member of the AMC family.”

During her seven years as director of AMC’s Office of Diversity and Leadership, Paula Taylor said she has seen a lot of growth and awareness of how supervisors and employees treat each other.

“It’s all about self-assessments,” Taylor said as she opened one of the training sessions. “It’s not about your neighbor or your friend or your co-worker. It’s about you. It’s important to take the information from this training and do an internal self-assessment, and to reflect on behaviors that may cause harm to others.”

Personal experiences, backgrounds and cultural environments lead to biases, Henry told the attendees in the sessions, as she asked them how certain names made them feel, and how they viewed the appearance of various individuals.

“We all have biases,” she said. “It’s just a matter of what we do with those biases, how we interact with others and how our biases lead us to talk to others. A lot of times, when we see a name we begin to shape judgments. We want to be mindful of potential blind spots in our thinking.”

Biases along with stereotypes and prejudices are often learned, she said, and we may act on them unintentionally.

“They are deeply ingrained, universal and may be able to influence your behavior, even without you knowing it. That’s why it’s important to self-assess and self-reflect,” Henry said.

Not all biases have negative results, at least not on the surface, she said. Affinity Bias refers to the act of liking someone because they are similar in appearance, background or interests, and Halo Effect refers to the act of thinking a person’s behavior is appropriate because of that affinity. Confirmation Bias is the act of preferring another person because they are agreeable in beliefs and actions, and Group Think refers to people giving up their own ideas or beliefs to go along with the group.

These biases can turn into aggression toward particular groups of people. Or, they can be the basis of micro-aggression in a person’s daily interactions, Henry said. Micro-aggression is indirect, subtle or intentional discriminations against members of a marginalized group.

Stereotypes – how we classify or define others based on our biases – start in the mind and can also affect behavior toward others.

“Oftentimes, how we treat people is based on how we think and feel, regardless of whether we know that person,” Henry said. “That’s why it’s important to understand each other. At AMC, it’s important for supervisors to understand their employees and who they are. The mission is always there but who is accomplishing that mission? Humans. Everyone is growing and evolving, and there’s always something to learn about ourselves and each other.”

Henry said even with biases and learned behaviors, people can overcome by striving to see others for who they are and what they can contribute.

“We are surrounded by information and thoughts and judgments. We need to get out of our heads and start paying attention to ourselves and why things might bother us,” she said. “We need to consider what stereotypes we have in our minds and try to rid ourselves of those. Those stereotypes can prevent us from making good decisions in our lives and in the workplace. How we respond to others starts with understanding ourselves.”

Emotional intelligence, social skills and empathy can all positively impact how people interact with others. Daniel Goldman, the author of Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More than IQ, said people can build better relationships with greater self-awareness, thinking before reacting and empathy for others.

Low emotional intelligence and unconscious bias can negatively impact the workforce through high employee turnover and absenteeism, poor performance, low morale and discrimination, Henry said. To prevent such an impact, supervisors and employees should acknowledge biases, don’t allow stereotypes, hold each other accountable and learn about each other to build understanding.

For supervisors, Taylor said, overcoming unconscious bias means ensuring the promotion process embraces diversity, making sure employees know the clear path towards promotions, awards and training, and paying attention to differences within their employee team and organization.

“The key for good leadership is to embrace all members of your team,” Taylor said. “Supervisors are responsible for promoting inclusiveness, and embracing differences and diversity within their organization.

“Embracing diversity always starts at the top. Our leaders and supervisors have the power and authority to set the environment in the workplace. We have great jobs. The challenge for us is to do the best for our people and including them, and treating everyone with dignity and respect. We set the environment, we are the pacesetters, and employees will follow our example.”