Biases That Linger in the Workplace

3 min read
Three businessman in a disagreement. .

Examining possible workplace biases, whether conscious or unconscious, is a resolute step toward eliminating the root causes of social prejudices and stereotypes. How do you know if these things stay hidden in the psyche of many people in your workplace?

Almost every day we quickly and automatically categorize people either as a friend, enemy, stranger, or in other social characteristics. We do this even without getting to know the person more closely. Such biases breed various forms of stereotypes, prejudices and, worse, discrimination.

Defining the terms

First and foremost, there is a need to define some terms for better understanding.

Stereotype defines this term as “something conforming to a fixed or general pattern; a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment.

Such images, which can be negative or positive, are constantly reproduced by the mass media, or those passed on by parents, peers, and other people.

Prejudice defines this term as “an irrational attitude of hostility directed against an individual, a group, a race, or their supposed characteristics.

Such negative attitude is caused by ignorance that fuels fear of, or hatred against other people. It starts with close attachment to a circle of acquaintances and victimizes those who do not belong to the group.

Discrimination defines the term as “the act, practice, or an instance of discriminating categorically rather than individually.” Such acts entail treating people unequally due to their memberships to certain groups. This also involves hate crimes.

How we are molded

We are all molded to learn prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination. It is believed that as early as age three, children begin to pick up terms of prejudice such as verbal or racial slurs, ethnic jokes, and other forms of discriminatory acts.

The mass media plays an influential role in unfairly depicting a person in a certain mood, scene, or character. People with disabilities are portrayed by popular culture as weak, while those with normal physicality are portrayed as strong.

People tend to embrace, reinforce, or perpetuate these to conform to the attitudes of certain groups or cultures. Sometimes they tend to resist change when their attitudes are criticized or challenged.

Related to work

Stories of employment or workplace discrimination are ignored but actually happen. A manager of a toy store refuses to hire someone in a wheelchair because the wheelchair might scare the children.

An employer who owns a trendy boutique, meanwhile, does not hire a Muslim woman merely because she’s wearing a head scarf. Clothing stores prefer to hire salesladies who look young, attractive, and thin.

According to results of a social experiment, job interviewers who are white would sit farther away from black applicants than from white applicants. In addition, however, they tend to commit more speech errors or end the interview sooner.

Many people try to justify these attitudes and behavior as something triggered by stress or competition. Sometimes, relaxation or distraction tasks are used as excuses, rather than admit they are displaying discrimination.

Need for rectification

There is an urgent need for people to understand where these negative attitude and behavior come from, how these influence their actions, and what could be done to prevent it.

Real-life situations in a wide range of human interactions provide growing evidences of prejudice, stereotype, and discriminatory acts, from hiring to promotions in workplaces.

It is a burden that some people argue that prejudice, stereotype, and discrimination is not a big problem when they are already showing signs of unconscious prejudice by denying that such problems do exist.

The first step toward rectifying the problem is to admit that biases and other forms of unfair treatment are learned early in life, and that it contradicts society’s commitment to justice and inequality.

Parents, teachers, law enforcers, as well as community and religious leaders should initiate the process of questioning old values and beliefs being perpetuated by peers and the media. Lessons promoting the values of equality should be taught among children in a significant way.

Being aware of the problem should motivate everyone to understand it further and act to make a change.

Related Article: 6 Ways to Help You Have the Right Work Attitude