5 facts about prejudice at work


Gender, ethnicity and other prejudices: what are yours?

Have you ever stopped to consider the impact of other people’s unconscious biases on how they view you? What about your own biases? These stereotypes determine how you think and react, acting like a shortcut working deep within your brain, whether you like it or not. We all have biases, even though we fervently believe that biases are bad (Henneman, 2014). As an Asian British woman working as an executive adviser in the corporate world – predominantly white and male – it’s easy for me to take this as the norm and forget about it. But the potential impact of unconscious bias on brain performance is enormous. Here are five startling facts:

Internal beliefs work in tandem with external biases

Suppose I applied for a science, technology, math, or engineering (STEM) job interview and just before the interview someone asked me where came my parents in India. I would be more likely to outperform my abilities because the question triggers mutual recognition of a stereotype that Asians are good at these subjects. Likewise, my interlocutor, registering this stereotype on a subconscious level, might be more likely to view my performance in a positive light, as they have already decided that I am a “strong candidate”. Such stereotypes exist in the world and are embedded in our unconscious as prejudices. On the other hand, if someone asked me about my attire, I would be more likely to underperform in that interview relative to my own abilities, because my unconscious brain would register the stereotype that women aren’t as good at it. than men for STEM subjects. . It is not difficult to find evidence of such bias at work. A Yale University study found that both male and female scientists were more likely to hire men, pay them more, and view them as more competent than women when profiles were established for candidates whose sex was randomly assigned.

Are Unconscious Bias Clouding Your Judgment?

Image: Mohamed Hassan/Pixabay

There is a stereotypical spectrum

When I became interested in it, I realized how widespread and varied human prejudices are. There are 150 identified stereotypes that underlie our biases, and the nuances of each vary depending on our individual life experience and belief systems. We all have biases related to social status, wealth, education, political affiliation, and even physical attractiveness. These go hand in hand with the more obvious biases that exist around gender, ethnicity and age.

Because I am aware of these biases and how they affect all of us, I can protect myself from being influenced by external feedback, although I cannot prevent others from reacting to me based on their biases. unconscious. I first became interested in this when I changed careers and was afraid people would think I was too young and inexperienced to be an executive coach at the CE level.

Women are prejudiced against themselves

You may have heard of the much-cited report from Hewlett Packard, when women and men see the same job specifications, women will tend to apply only if they meet 100% of the criteria. For men, those who only get 60% will apply for the same job. Much has been written about it, but it’s a great example of how we create our own “logic”: telling ourselves the “truth” about a situation, without questioning the thought process associated with it. . The standard male response comes from a place of abundance and possibility. Man does not put additional obstacles in his way. Her unconscious bias works in her favour: the belief that “I have as much chance as anyone of getting this job…” while the candidate withdraws from the race before the start of the race deciding “I do not do it “. have what it takes.

When I work with clients, I encourage them to develop a greater awareness of their internal saboteurs – the pervasive, illogical subconscious thoughts that interfere with their ability to make decisions in their best interest. That’s not to say men don’t have similar internal battles, but research shows they’re more likely to ignore them.

Other examples of unconscious gender bias are just as insidious. Men who have a stay-at-home wife are less likely to promote women in the workplace than men who have a wife in a high-level or similar position. Both women and men even prefer to make fun of men rather than women.

You eliminate contradictions to confirm what you already think

For all of us, a unique cocktail of unconscious bias is at work beneath the surface whenever we are faced with a new situation. Your brain attempts to design the best response by measuring the current situation against how you have thought and acted in similar situations before. To guide this process, emotional marking acts like a fluorescent highlighter, telling you what past (and present) information to pay attention to. This may very well include “zoning” information about the current situation that is not consistent with what you already believe to be true, otherwise known as confirmation bias. The only way to combat this is to become aware of this selective filtering.

Taking action is the key to change

Such awareness takes work and perseverance. There’s no way to avoid your brain searching for these emotional beacons, and the emotional element of decision-making is critical. But I encourage my clients to keep a skeptical eye on their “pattern recognition” system, using their logical thinking to challenge emotional marking, checking any inferences they may make based on bias rather than on facts.

Try to shift from the unconscious to the conscious any biases that might be holding you back or affecting your interactions at work or in the way you raise your family. Once it’s conscious, you’re much more likely to be able to do something about it, if you have the desire.


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