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Business leaders talk about workplace bias and micro-inequities

The LIA Women's Collaborative organized the event, Tackling

The LIA Women's Collaborative organized the event, Tackling Micro-Inequities in the Workplace: Understanding Unconscious Bias.   Credit: Barry Sloan

Unintentional slights in the workplace can damage a company's brand and relationship with employees, a group of executives said at an event Wednesday that focused on "micro-inequities."

Micro-inequities include actions such as making eye contact only with male co-workers or employees, unintentionally hosting an important business meeting on a religious holiday observed by some employees, asking invasive though well-intentioned questions about someone's racial background, or making assumptions about an employee's understanding of technology based on their age.

Panelists at the Melville event, organized by the LIA Women’s Collaborative, shared their experiences with unintentional bias and ways to address the issue.

Part of the challenge of handling micro-inequities and tackling personal biases is that the behaviors can often come from a lack of cultural awareness and are generally less obvious than explicit discrimination, said Janeen Y. Johnson, manager of diversity and inclusion at PSEG Long Island.

"Micro-inequities are very difficult to prove as discriminatory because they’re subtle," said Johnson, who joined PSEG Long Island after it created its diversity and inclusion manager position late last year.

Although diversity has long been championed in corporate hiring decisions, she said, often little is consciously done to make a work environment inclusive. Businesses need to be more intentional about changing their cultures "so people feel as if they’ve been invited to dance as opposed to simply invited to the party,” she said.

The panel discussion, which included Perry Greene, vice president of diversity and inclusion at Adelphi University, Nicholas K. Iadevaio Jr., vice president of human resources at L’Oreal USA, and David Kilmnick, president and chief executive of the LGBT Network, spoke to the group of mostly women business leaders. 

At cosmetic giant L'Oreal, the company has made efforts to address issues within its ranks -- including the establishment of think tanks made of diverse groups of employees — to ensure that leadership reflects the more socially sensitive brand image it wants to display to consumers. Additionally, the company has employees fill out regular surveys concerning leadership as a way for managers to see how their actions are seen by employees.  

"We're turning a very big ship," Iadevaio said of the company.. "It's 60,000 employees. Everybody has to put their oar in the water in order for the ship to move."

Three things employers can do to address micro-inequities, Johnson said, is to first make a concerted effort to become more culturally aware and educate themselves on those things that might be considered offensive to a community of people; assume positive intent on the part of offenders as a way to start a productive conversation; and engage in "storytelling," so that groups impacted most by micro-inequities can share their perspectives with those who may not be aware how particular actions or comments may be seen as offensive.

The Long Island Association’s Women’s Collaborative brings together local businesswomen to provide partnership and education opportunities and spotlight issues affecting women in the workplace, said founder Ivy Algazy, CEO of the Ivy Network, a women’s leadership development firm based in Melville.

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