Using Neuroscience to Increase Workplace Equity

by Employers Council Staff

Bulletin,  Hiring,  HR Expertise and Support,  Organizational Development

We have all heard that the human brain is hard-wired to make quick decisions about our environment and the people in it. Unfortunately, this can lead to prejudices and biases that most of us develop over time. These are based on the images we are exposed to as a daily part of our life. Still, this is only part of the story.

In fact, as pointed out in “The Egalitarian Brain,” we can train ourselves and those around us to reduce prejudicial or biased thinking that may cause us to treat people differently based on race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, and other perceived differences.

As explained in the article, our amygdala is in the part of the brain that we have in common with our distant ancestors – the subcortex – and it is designed to see threats quickly and have an immediate survival response. Surrounding the subcortex is the neocortex, and it has grown more sophisticated as our world became more complex. It uses more intricate thoughts to process experiences and learn from them, overcoming the amygdala and making more informed decisions.

If you as an employer are interested in increasing workplace equity, here are some helpful hints from the neuroscientists:

  • Have clear policies in your handbook that explain what behavior is required in your workplace that employees can read and understand. Employers Council has sample policies for members.
  • Educate your employees about discrimination and explain what is not acceptable. Include examples in the training. Our anti-harassment trainers use this technique to spark conversations in class about what is and what is not acceptable, helping employees engage in deeper thinking. This provides a frame of reference that can be called upon later in workplace situations.
  • If you hear or see an employee or a co-worker act in a way that would foster prejudice or discrimination, explain what you observed and why it might cause harm. Explain to the employee why your organization doesn’t value this and what they can do to avoid this behavior. Employees will feel like this was a lesson rather than an attack. Engage the neocortex and not the amygdala.
  • If an employee complains about treatment in your workplace, make sure you understand all the details, and why it was a concern. Find out how they want to be treated instead – if it is not obvious to you. Listen to understand before you react. It is also wise to consider whether you would need to conduct an investigation. Members who are not sure may talk to one of our staff for guidance.
  • Create workgroups that are as diverse as possible. When employees have good experiences working with those who are different from them, they learn more about what makes them the same and begin to view people who might be different from them as part of their team.

If you need help with this topic at your workplace, call Employers Council. We help employers in this area and get our members the resources they need.

About the author
Employers Council Staff