The Net Promoter System Podcast

A Conversation About Bias: How Leaders Can Make Employees and Customers Feel Safe and Heard

Just Work cofounders Trier Bryant and Kim Scott share ways that open, honest communication about workplace bias can benefit both customers and employees.


A Conversation About Bias: How Leaders Can Make Employees and Customers Feel Safe and Heard

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This is part one of a two-part conversation with Trier Bryant and Kim Scott. Listen to part two here.

Bias. We all have it. We form quick assessments of someone’s character off of their appearance alone, for instance. Not only is it common, but it’s a somewhat necessary part of human nature to simplify the world. But those quick assessments can undermine customer and workplace relationships. What if more people were aware when bias was creeping into their perspective?

Trier Bryant and Kim Scott, cofounders of Just Work, help leaders create equitable workplaces. And equitable workplaces have a better shot at ensuring that customers from all backgrounds and abilities feel respected.

The key? Empowering people who witness or experience bias, bullying, or discrimination to speak up.

Kim, who also authored Just Work and Radical Candor, says that an environment in which conversations about bias feel welcome is one optimized for collaboration. Giving employees the tools and cultural support to flag bias, discrimination, or bullying makes it easier to tackle tough issues head-on. It helps to avoid problems and issues before they happen, and it helps to correct them afterward. Even so, Trier, a US Air Force veteran and CEO of Just Work, emphasizes that racism and bias will inevitably arise in the workplace.

“I don't believe everyone was raised with the same values and to treat everyone fairly,” Trier says. “Racism is passed down through families, communities, and behaviors that we see and mimic growing up. And then we all grow up, go to work, and bring all that baggage into the workplace.”

But this repeating cycle, according to Kim and Trier, can be broken by leadership that encourages people to speak openly about their unique perspectives and experiences and that provides the tools, frameworks, and language to do so with empathy and compassion.

Representation on teams, Trier says, is critical. A group of people from homogeneous upbringings may not notice when something is offensive to another group of people, for instance. “There's so much research that shows that we come to better solutions, better business, when we have more perspectives sitting at the table,” Trier says.

In this episode, Kim, Trier, and I discuss what a “just” work environment looks like—one in which bias, prejudice, and bullying are addressed early on. And we explore how proactive leaders who encourage all employees to speak up when they see or experience bias, discrimination, or bullying can jump-start this shift.

In the following excerpt, we discuss how bias shapes employees’ experiences.

Trier Bryant: So much research shows that we come to better solutions and better business when we have more perspectives sitting at the table.

We also have to be explicit, though, Rob, of diverse teams vs. those sitting at the table that have a voice and are decision makers, because you may have a lot of representation in places where they may have seen an issue that needs to be raised, but they know they're not in a position to do anything about it. What is the mechanism or structure in place? How do you raise that?

Rob Markey: That's the thing that I'm interested in.  If I see something I think isn't right that's going to get the company in trouble—and I don't want the company to get in trouble—how do I do that in a way that feels safe? And if I am Black, if I am Latino, if I am a woman, and so on, and I am raising an issue about being sensitive to a particular thing, I'm taking a risk just by speaking out, right?

Kim Scott: Yes. And that's so important, Rob. This gets back to the issue of what the role of the leader is. And what can the leader do. For a leader to complain that people didn't feel comfortable raising an issue is ridiculous because it is the leader's job to create the processes.

People will never feel comfortable raising this stuff. And so, it is almost inevitable that people won't raise it unless leaders create processes by which these things can be raised. So, this is one of the things Trier and I work with companies on doing—bias and what can leaders do to make it not just more likely but inevitable that people will point out bias. And also, what can they do to make it clear it shouldn't be all on the shoulders of the people whom biases are directed to point it out. This gives upstanders a voice in also pointing out biases.


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