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A Playbook for Disrupting Bias

by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Ripa Rashid and Laura Sherbin

Before you can disrupt bias in your organization, you must first determine precisely where and how it is being felt.

As the workforce becomes increasingly diverse, busting bias is a business-critical priority. To help root out bias in judgments of potential, the authors of Disrupt Bias: Drive Value: A New Path Toward Diverse, Engaged, and Fulfilled Talent (Rare Bird Books, 2017) have developed ACE, a framework that codifies employee potential in order use it to analyze bias. ACE is comprised of six areas commonly used to assess an employee’s potential in both day-to-day and cyclical decisions — ability, ambition, commitment, connections, emotional intelligence, and executive presence — and all six areas can be prone to deep subjectivity.

Follow these tips to disrupt bias in your organization:


  • Field a survey among your employees, using ACE or your own criteria for assessing potential.
  • Identify respondents whose assessments of their own potential are higher than the assessments from their managers.


  • Examine talent cohorts of interest to your company (e.g. foreign nationals, African Americans, veterans) to learn where bias lurks.
  • Conduct an inquiry to get the context for counterintuitive findings.
  • Apply filters to test whether employees with sponsors, inclusive leaders and/or diverse division leaders are least likely to perceive ACE bias in your corporate context.

    Prioritize the roll-out of interventions based on the cohorts with the deepest needs.

    Expand leadership archetypes

  • Hire and promote candidates who embody difference.
  • Codify and socialize company standards and expectations.
  • Implement a ‘tone from the top’ that endorses a variety of acceptable approaches to leadership.
  • Create role model videos and playbooks of executives in action, featuring a diversity of leadership styles and backgrounds. Train managers to be inclusive leaders
  • Introduce managers to the six behaviours that prompt everyone to contribute ideas and communicate openly with managers and colleagues.
  • Ensure everyone gets heard: train managers in dialogue skills.
  • Build accountability and incentives into annual performance reviews on the six inclusive leader behaviours.

      Build a culture of sponsorship

  • Educate and incentivize leaders to sponsor others.
  • Educate rising stars on how to be stellar protégés.
  • Create opportunities for diverse talent to show their leadership potential.
  • Make leaders who sponsor diverse talent more visible.


  • Identify where your map has ‘cooled’, and where bias lingers. Disrupt again. 

Sylvia Ann Hewlett is the founder and CEO of the Centre for Talent Innovation, and co-director of the Women’s Leadership Program at Columbia Business School. Ripa Rashid is co-president at the Centre for Talent Innovation. Laura Sherbin is Co-President, Chief Financial Officer and Director of Research at the Centre for Talent Innovation and an Adjunct Professor at Columbia University. They are the co-authors of Disrupt Bias, Drive Value: A New Path Toward Diverse, Engaged, and Fulfilled Talent (Rare Bird Books, 2017).

Further Reading:

This article appeared in the Fall 2018 issue. Published by the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, Rotman Management explores themes of interest to leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs.

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