December 15th, 2015

A JPMorgan exec whose job is to champion women's careers says an unconscious bias workshop helped her recognize a blindspot in how she was managing her team

sam saperstein jpm women on the moveCourtesy of JP Morgan Chase

Summary List Placement

Samantha Saperstein's job is to help women achieve professional success.

As the head of JPMorgan Chase's Women on the Move program, she develops programming for women inside and outside the bank, like financial education and support for women-run businesses. Before landing the job in 2018, Saperstein ran JPMorgan's Women on the Move business resource group in North America.

Which is to say: Saperstein is aware of the challenges that women and underrepresented minorities experience at work.

But when Saperstein went through JPMorgan's anti-bias training recently, she still recognized some areas where she could be a fairer people manager.

"No matter what group you're a part of, you will bring a bias to the way you think about people and make decisions," she told Business Insider. Saperstein realized she felt most comfortable chatting with the other working parents on her team — and may have missed opportunities to forge relationships with employees who don't have kids.

Saperstein's experience neatly illustrates how even the most well intentioned and informed bosses can have blind spots in their management style. And it underscores the importance of training managers to recognize the assumptions and preferences that influence their daily decisions.

JPMorgan is making a big push for diversity

Unconscious bias is prejudice in favor of or against a particular social group that people may not even know they have. And as business leaders across industries get wise to the challenges that underrepresented groups can face at work, unconscious bias training is increasingly common. But it doesn't always contribute toward the ultimate goal of increasing diversity and inclusion.

As Janice Gassam Asare, the founder of BWG Business Solutions, LLC, wrote for Business Insider, sometimes companies administer this training and then fail to address more systemic forms of discrimination within the organization, like biased performance evaluations.

JPMorgan ramped up its push for diversity earlier this year after a 2019 New York Times report alleged employee and customer racial discrimination at the bank. CEO Jamie Dimon published a shareholder letter highlighting several ways in which the bank would improve its diversity, including expanding diversity and inclusion training for employees.

JPMorgan has also introduced a recruiting tool designed to assess how candidates think. The idea, the bank says, is to give hiring managers additional data points beyond the person's résumé. 

Women on the Move, which launched in 2018, has three goals: expand women-run businesses, improve women's financial health, and promote women's career growth. The bank's ReEntry Program helps professionals who have taken at least a two-year career break get back into the workforce. (Research suggests that mothers are more likely than men to step back from their careers than fathers.)

Managers tend to hire and promote people who are like them

After Saperstein attended JPMorgan's anti-bias training, she walked away thinking about her own management style: "Am I gravitating toward one person or toward one group more often than others? Am I making sure that I'm spending an equal amount of time with everyone on my team? Am I going out of my way to connect with people who don't look like me?"

That introspection prompted her to realize she often gravitated toward other mothers on her team. "As my career progressed, my family also changed," Saperstein said. "When I became a mom — and a mom of three — I liked talking to other moms about, 'How are you doing this? How are you?'"

Indeed, research suggests that bosses tend to hire and promote people who look and act like them. If they don't check these biases, the result is often a homogenous organization. And diversity is part of what makes companies thrive.

Admittedly, a company dominated by white men is still much more common than a business made up largely of working mothers, especially in finance. But managers should be aware nonetheless of who they're naturally inclined to show favor to.

Now Saperstein reminds herself, "I have a lot of people on my team who aren't mothers or parents. Maybe they will be, maybe they won't be, but it's not top of mind for them."

Especially during a global pandemic, it's critical for managers to remember that everyone is facing different challenges at home. Saperstein said, "You have to make sure you're still very aware of what other people are going through."

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See Also:

SEE ALSO: Wall Street finally hired its first female CEO — and data says it could open up careers for women across finance. Here's how.

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