Sunday, June 28, 2020

Overcoming Bias And Prejudice In The Workplace


As a Career & Professional Development Specialist I help individuals and organizations overcome barriers to growth in the workplace. When a working professional or leader of an organization desires or recognizes a need for growth, it signifies acknowledgment, which is the first step in instigating change.

Change is not easy and is often met with resistance. What I've learned about change through psychology and validated through my work with individuals and organizations is this: we don't change until, or unless, the benefits or rewards associated with identified actions or behaviors that need to change, are threatened or removed.

Bias and prejudice in the workplace, and the practices and policies that foster them, are under scrutiny because they are now being viewed as a foundational problem in systemic racism, and represent huge barriers to growth. You can't solve any problem until you properly define it; thus creating an awareness of it, but who defines the bias and the activities and policies that support it in the workplace needs to be a collaborative venture.

It makes sense when you consider that any bias (and there are many) takes place unconsciously in the mind; therefore, overcoming bias and prejudice in the workplace is a major challenge. Because my work draws upon multiple disciplines of psychology, I defer to psychology's definition of bias in this blog entry, which states: A bias is an inclination, temperament, outlook, general pattern or, personal tendency to think in unfair and usually irrational ways. 

Many definitions synonymously reference prejudice. In psychology, and in this blog entry, prejudice is viewed as the first cousin of bias; not as its identical twin. Prejudice is an unjustified attitude directed toward people simply because they are members of a specific social group or their supposed characteristics.

With these definitions in mind, we can see how any acknowledgment of bias can serve as the impetus to growth and change in the workplace. Prejudice is another story. Admitting a bias will reflect a character strength. Admitting prejudice will reflect a character flaw. It is possible to be biased without being prejudiced. It's also possible to be prejudiced without being racist

Unfortunately, both can manifest in workplace discrimination, which lies at the root of systemic racism. This means that bias and prejudice, though not as sinister as racism, affect disenfranchised groups in the workplace in the same manner.

In order to overcome bias and prejudice in the workplace, we need to get into the habit or practice of having open, honest, and critical discussions about recruitment, hiring, training, promotion, and succession processes. These discussions have to be more than mere "lip-service." They must deal with context that offers viable solutions to the problems of workplace bias and prejudice. 

These discussions will be uncomfortable at first, but every decision-maker in every organization needs to challenge personnel decisions with one objective in mind: diversity and inclusion. The first decision might be the practice of requiring degrees to get jobs for which a degree is not necessary to perform. I've written about this for years. Maybe now, the concept of the corporate apprenticeship, and talent development programs will be revisited.

Overcoming bias and prejudice in the workplace will take more effort than time. And because time in the workplace is dedicated to making money, efforts that will provide a means to this end will be vital and must be driven by those appointed to bring them to fruition.