Solopreneurs: Here's How to Bias-Proof Your Growing Business

  • By AMMA MARFO
  • November 25, 2020

Real talk for just a moment: there is, without question, a “look” to South by Southwest. Most of the faces you see at sessions, on 6th Street headed into bars, and filling the seats at daily keynotes and featured sessions are…well, white. White, male, and often able-bodied. But there were a number of sessions eager to explore just why that is, and start to address how that monochromatic look could start to change.
While overcoming bias might seem like a concern reserved for multinational organizations or growth-stage startups, they can also play a role in how solopreneurs choose to bring on extra hands. Your business may be small, but thinking about how you choose the people to work alongside you can change the trajectory of your work and its role in the world. To that end, I’ve assembled a few tips for those weighing the option of bringing on freelancers, temp workers, or assistants to aid you in your work.

Drill down to skill

At its core, the search for a new hire should answer the question, “What does this position need? What should the person filling it be able to do?” Matan Koch, former attorney and lead at Capitalizability, noted during “Don’t Dis My Ability: Universal Inclusion” that it’s this focus on matching the skills needed to the employee in question that can help us overcome our idea of what the ideal candidate looks like.
An example: The Foot Locker in Times Square hired a woman with severe developmental disabilities, who just happened to find calm in folding clothes—a job most other employees hated. She did it well and was content doing this task for long periods of time. Her skills matched the role they put her in.
Drilling down to skill means abandoning some time-honored traditions from hiring that run rampant in the corporate world: “Would I want to be stuck in an airport with this person?” “What’s your gut telling you?” “How will this person fit in?” Try to focus on what tasks this person will need to complete, and what collection of abilities and talents are best suited to these tasks.

Fill gaps, not niches

A moment ago, I used the other dreaded F word: fit. Fit is often used as a way to ensure that a new team member can “hit the ground running” without disrupting the team dynamic that’s already been established. The problem? It usually means that the new person is judged (a) by how previous people performed or fit, or (b) what will shake up the organization the least. The result? Groups look the same, think the same, act the same, and never get to do anything different.
But there are clear and measured benefits to shaking up the standard look: two sessions shared the statistic that effectiveness of a team goes up 15 percent when it is varied in gender, and up 35 percent when it is varied both in gender and in race/ethnicity. What could a 35 percent increase in effectiveness do for you?
Team effectiveness increases by 35% when there's diversity in gender and ethnicity. Click To Tweet
In “Shedding Light on Hidden Bias,” the phrase was used: “Hire for cultural contribution, not for cultural fit.” Even in one-person organizations, you can employ this standard. Is there a segment of your market or audience that you want to understand better? Anyone that you don’t yet reach, but would like to? You’ll need people who can fill that gap, rather than echoing your experiences or approaches. Embrace different perspectives as something that can grow your business and its impact, not as challenges to how you currently work.

Beware the “pattern-match”

“Pattern-matching” is a term used often when speaking about hiring processes, referring to how established patterns of hiring—referrals, “gut feelings,” or fit—can perpetuate long stretches of people who look, think, and work alike. Because these patterns were often based on white, able, male standards of behavior, people come into organizations based on their ability to work within those standards. But the world is too wide, the perspectives too varied, and the needs of consumers too broad, for this to be a sustainable way to grow an organization. As a solopreneur or small organization, you have an opportunity to buck a trend, and elevate new perspectives in the process.
By the way, pattern-matching applies to more elements of work than just hiring. As you bring this new person into this organization, how will you decide which of you takes on what task? How will you measure success and productivity of your new team members? When will you increase their task load and responsibilities? Avoiding pattern-matching will mean working with people to define new standards or benchmarks for success, rather than how you would want to be judged, or how you would deem yourself successful.

Dig deep

Being the lone decision maker in your one-person organization means that being impartial can be difficult. You only have your own instincts, judgment, and knowledge to go on as you grow this labor of love. This means being open to the possibility of learning more—not just about how to be a boss, but about yourself. What biases might you carry that affect your decisions? How might that affect who you surround yourself with?
Being a solopreneur can make it difficult to be impartial. Dig deep. Click To Tweet
These questions can be hard to answer in isolation and your efforts to conquer any biases you do identify might themselves be skewed, based on how you understand yourself. Enlist the help of friends, family members, and even other solopreneurs and collaborators, to keep you in check. Consult these people as you put calls out to new places to solicit talent. Allow them to help you weigh your options. Explore how others train, interact with, and assess their team members.
Going from being a one-person organization to working with new folks can be a challenging experience in its own right, and ensuring that you’re doing so with an eye on equality and inclusion can feel even more daunting. But it can be done- and the businesses and organizations that do it best, hold the most promise for longevity and success.

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