Who Are You? Unconscious Bias at Work - American Society of Employers - Anonym

Who Are You? Unconscious Bias at Work

It is fair to say that standards for respectful behavior in the workplace today are generally higher than they were a generation ago. Credit anti-discrimination laws, more diversity, and proactive training practices for that change. One result is that to combat discrimination in the workplace today, HR can focus more on root causes of bias than reactive training.

A recent study out of MIT and the University of Chicago, widely reported in the press, involved sending out the same resume with either “black-sounding” names or “white-sounding” names. Researchers found that resumes with “white-sounding” names were 50% more likely to get a response than those with “black-sounding” names. Another study, by University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, found that between male-sounding names and female-sounding names, both men and women hiring managers were more likely to hire a male job applicant for a faculty position than a female job applicant with an identical record.

Think of President Obama’s given name, Barack Hussein. A Pew Foundation study in 2012 found that 17% of registered voters still believe that he is a Muslim and only 49% identified him correctly as Christian.

This issue has been on a front burner for many years.  R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr., founder and president of The American Institute for Managing Diversity, Inc., opined in a 1996 interview that prejudice cannot be entirely rooted out. ''People can have racist thoughts and still effectively manage a diverse work force,'' Mr. Thomas said. 

Some biases are more subtle, to the point of unconscious. Denise Russell Fleming, a vice president at BAE Systems Inc., admitted that she views quiet people more suspiciously. Her reasoning was, as she said, "I may have not made the best decisions" because of inadequate input from introverts, adding that she tends to favor more talkative personalities.

Other unconscious biases may include preferring a fellow graduate of one’s alma mater, or tall people or people with full heads of hair. In fact, there is ample research that finds taller people make more money than their vertically challenged counterparts. In addition, in 2005 there was a Federal Reserve study that showed that “beautiful” people make about 5% more than their average-looking counterparts. Daniel Hamermesh, an economics professor at the University of Texas in Austin, believes that beautiful people can make $230,000 more over a lifetime than an average-looking peer.

BAE, a major defense contractor, now requires employees to go through training programs aimed at identifying and overcoming hidden biases. As many as 20% of large U.S. employers with diversity programs now provide unconscious-bias training, up from 2% five years ago.  Margaret Regan, head of FutureWork Institute, a global diversity consultancy, believes that number could grow to 50% by 2020. 

The training that BAE requires is two hours and highly interactive.  The trainer starts out by stating "I don't want you to feel guilty about any biases that you have."   The key is recognition and acceptance of these biases. Then comes the strategies how to deal with them.

Much has been written about Millennials in the workforce, a lot of it negative. Unfortunately, people may be starting to believe what they’ve read. Diane Parisi, a 41-year-old BAE vice president with two young subordinates, believes that Millennials "don't want to work for what they get," and they expect to move up quickly merely because they completed college. After the training, Ms. Parisi admitted, the bias she expressed probably "caused me to paint Millennials with a broader negative brush than I should."

Google also recognizes the issue.  More than 13,000 of Google's roughly 46,000 global staffers attended a workshop in 2013 that emphasized "situations where the influence of unconscious bias might be especially bad," such as performance reviews, a Google spokeswoman says.

Dow has trained 800 of its 4,600 managers world-wide since 2011.  There is a strong belief that the training helped the number of women in professional positions to rise to 32.4% from 29.7% in that time, says Johanna Soderstrom, a human-resources vice president at Dow.

BAE has also seen positive impacts of the diversity training in senior management.  Between May 2011 and May 2013, BAE says, the number of women and people of color in senior management rose nearly 10%.  Before the training the hiring panels previously "had a tendency to select white males," recalls Bridgette A. Weitzel, BAE's chief talent officer.  "You don't go to a class and next week, everything changes," adds Linda Hudson, chief executive of BAE.  A class won’t change the world but it does build a foundation for a strong starting point.

Source: The Wall Street Journal 1/9/14, 11/27/11, The New York Times 12/1/1996, Money.CNN 4/8/2005

ASE provides diversity and unconscious bias training for its members.  For more information, contact Anthony Kaylin at akaylin@aseonline.org or (248) 223-8012.

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