“Let the games begin!”

Hunger Games enthusiasts will ­recognize this line by author Suzanne Collins. It could be the battle cry for the use of gamification in ­discovering and acknowledging ­unconscious bias. As we work to create more inclusive environments in our workplaces, one area that may be overlooked is our unconscious biases, and gamification may provide a way to make an impact and spread awareness in a safe and nonthreatening way.

According to Mahzarin Banaji in Harvard Business Review, “Most of us believe that we are ethical and unbiased … But more than two decades of research confirms that, in reality, most of us fall woefully short of our inflated self-perception.” Elizabeth Levy Paluck and Donald P. Green’s review titled: Prejudice Reduction: What Works? A Review and Assessment of Research and Practice,” Annu. Rev. Psychol. 2009. 60:339–67, sadly revealed that most ­diversity initiatives companies roll out in good faith and with great intentions, have unknown results.

We all have experienced that feeling of welcome and belonging when we are with like-minded individuals. The feeling of belonging is a basic human need. We do however need to expose ourselves to people who have different views and experiences so we do not become so set in our ­comfort zones that we fear anything that isn’t ­homogeneous. Everyone has unconscious biases, so all in the workplace can benefit from discovering their own, a first step leading toward overcoming them.

How do we recognize and acknowledge our unconscious biases to ensure they are not inadvertently affecting our ­decision-making? For starters, you are ­encouraged to take the Implicit Association Test. This test was created by researchers from Harvard, Virginia, and Washington universities. This test has you quickly answer questions based on images and directions on the screen. The test is easy to take and timed. In fact, it feels as if you are playing a game! The results are quite often eye-opening and provide test takers with an inventory of their unconscious biases. How do we take the next step to improve our decision-making to be more fact and performance based and minimize our newly discovered unconscious bias?

Perhaps it is time for a game changer. What if we could use gamification to help people discover the areas in which they have unconscious bias? Gamification is a fast-growing tool in the workplace designed to make learning fun and in a format that taps into our competitive nature. Once the areas are identified, gamification could be used to help people find ways to keep those biases top-of-mind in decision-making situations.

Some common employee drivers are competition, recognition and rewards. Tim Pickard, in his article “5 Statistics that Suggest Gamification is the Future of the Workplace,” explains that gamification ­understands the psychological behaviors that we use in our day-to-day decision-making and provides a way for the employees to compete while tracking ­individual results and celebrating their progress. Gal Rimon compares using ­gamification to using a fitness tracker device. Like a fitness tracker, gamification allows for the tracking of objectives and key results in real time. It allows employees to feel a sense of accomplishment as they improve, and it acknowledges and celebrates improvements. Often, end-of-the-year evaluations fail because the employee is not afforded immediate feedback to understand what needs to be changed or afforded the ­ability to make adjustments. Gamification provides this critical feedback in the here and now, enabling growth and change.

Lawyers love precedent. This is not an unconscious or conscious bias, this is fact. Therefore, here are some success stories from the business world using gamification to improve their employees’ performance and increase results.

Microsoft’s director of tests, Ross Smith, tied charitable contributions to employees providing feedback and identifying bugs during the testing phase of a new product. According to Yu-Kai Chou, “With Microsoft’s contributions tied to game results, surprisingly, ‘gamers’ were able to increase user feedback and bug identification by 16 times more than non-gamers.’” Siemens, the makers of Farmville, the online game community that has players create and manage a farm, has created PlantVille. In this online game, players are plant managers and they are charged with deciding things such as hiring, employee management, where to spend funds in the plant and many other manufacturing-related decisions. There are about 20,000 players of PlantVille and the feedback has been positive.

Who has not bemoaned the lack of ­quality data in our back-office databases that we rely on for conflicts checks, cross-selling, marketing and so much more? Enter the knights in shining microchips: DataScrubbers. They have created a game that awards points and shows progress as players (otherwise known as employees), complete the mind-numbing, but ever ­present and important task of inputting and improving the quality of the data in our data management systems.

DevHub added a few gaming features to its project-management platform. Those few features helped incentivize DevHub’s employees to complete the mundane and more challenging tasks that were often the cause of projects stalling or not be ­completed on time. They saw their completion result go from 10 to 80 percent after implementing the gaming features.

The results are in and I am hopeful that a game designer/programmer will, soon, ­create a gamification tool that can be used in the workplace to help employees identify their unconscious biases and then help them work to minimize the impact of their unconscious biases on their decision-making. I even offer up a suggestion for a game where scenarios that occur in the workplace are reenacted by the employee, such as the hiring process. An employee is shown resumes with no names or gender specifics on them and asked to rank the resumes from best to worst fit for a job opening. Then the employee does a video portion where they interview avatar candidates who represent each of the resumes just reviewed. The avatar candidates are of different ethnicities, race and gender. The employee is then asked to rank the avatar candidates from best to worst fit for the same job opening. If the ranking results from the resumes and interviews do not match, the game/program would provide feedback on where the ­employee’s biases exist.

What are your ideas for ways that ­gamification can positively help us become more aware of and subsequently improve our inherent biases? Unconscious bias is real. Gamification is real. The workplace results are real. Could gamification that reveals one’s unconscious bias become a reality as well? “Let the games begin!”