Biases, Prejudices...Do They Still Exist In You?

As human resources professionals we are faced with a variety of employment related decisions on a daily basis. As no shock to each of us, we see biases and prejudices whether hidden or overt that affect these decisions STILL today. The situations I observe are amazing and get responses from others like "wow - that still happens today?" Yes - it does! You've seen it too! Can we afford to have these biases in our workplaces when we are in the midst of a war for talent? We need skills and need to continue to take the steps to minimize the influence of these biases in the workplace.

The biases and prejudices come in all forms -

• Race (minority)

-Whether it is a biased position against hiring an African American, Hispanic, or Muslim, I run

into issues nearly each week with a hiring manager bluntly saying "we don't want a minority in

this position."

• Age (old and young)

-"I want someone young and spunky for this position. The older candidates won't have the energy

and they will retire before they even get started." -"He looks too young and our customers

won't have respect and trust for someone that is younger than their socks."

• Gender (female and male)

-"She's got a family. How could she possibly be committed to our company and juggle the needs

of her children?"

• Weight (heavy and thin)

-"She's too heavy, would not be able to keep up, and would just be teased by everyone. Plus,

don't heavy people have hygiene problems?"

• Sexual orientation

-"Our workforce isn't ready for someone with homosexual preferences."

• Personality

-"I need to hire someone that is the opposite personality of me to balance my strengths and


The list is endless…why do any of these issues make a difference in how someone will perform on the job? They shouldn't, but for some reason these differences and others are influencing decisions when they should not. For years now, I have run across situations like these nearly every day. I put on my HR consultant hat and begin with the legal ramifications of these statements AND help the individual understand what they are missing out on by not looking at the individual's skills and capabilities. Sometimes, I succeed but other times the company and society misses out! With the labor skills shortage, the organizations that "get it" are the ones that will succeed AND help society tear down these continued biases.

For some of you, I'm preaching to the choir. You probably have as many if not more stories that you could share. But what about the hidden biases that exist without our knowing of them? We have to battle these too. In a recent article titled "Watch Out for the Minefield of Hidden Bias" by Pamela Babcock, Ms. Babcock sited an outstanding tool to help identified these hidden biases in ourselves and others. A Harvard University research team created a series of Implicity Association Test (IAT) As a result, they found a number of folks have hidden and unconscious biases that may unintentionally be affecting employment decisions. The highest levels of bias were relative to black, elderly, disabled, and overweight individuals. However, the studies showed if you are aware of your unconscious bias you can control how it influences decisions by ensuring your focus is on job related characteristics.

Here are some simple steps to help you be proactive in your organization in continuing to help us focus on individuals' abilities, accepting them for who they are, and surviving the skills crisis all at once:

1. Check out the Implicity Association Test Try it yourself and encourage others to try it too. You'll be surprised at the results and how it makes you think.

2. Learn to accept your biases and find ways to overcome them and focus on attributes of individuals that truly impact the situation - job related skills!

3. Identify the job related skills needed for a position. Interview, evaluate, and promote based on job related skills. Don't make decisions for the person based on what you think they may do (i.e. he is 55 - why would he want this job? He'll just quit and retire in 5 years; she is about to get married - she'll just end up having kids and quitting her job; he is a minority and others won't accept him)

4. Engage a group of individuals in employment decision making to try to overcome biases and prejudices. However, be sure you are not creating "group think" where you are always trying to hire or promote individuals like your group.

5. Continue to educate others on the value of accepting and embracing the differences we all bring to the table. It is what fosters creativity and makes an organization succeed!

Obviously prejudices and biases hit a very sore spot for many of us. If someone is accused of being prejudiced they become extremely defensive. That is not the goal of this article. There are many ways you can use this data but at least consider this…We are in a labor shortage. Every individual has unique skills and abilities and we need to find a way to hone in and focus on those skills and abilities in order to navigate through this shortage. If we let overt or even hidden biases stop us from hiring the best candidates for the job, our companies will ultimately be impacted. Additionally, we are throwing ourselves back decades in history by not educating ourselves, managers, employees, and community on accepting everyone for who they are no matter what their differences may be.

Don't just read this article and blow it off! Do something about it! Check out the Implicity Association Test today and see for yourself if you have any hidden biases. Look around and see if your organization harbors any overt or hidden biases. What can you do to change them? Make a difference!


Robin Throckmorton, MA, SPHR is the President and Executive HR Strategist with strategic HR, inc., a human resources management consulting firm located in Cincinnati, OH. Strategic HR, inc. was a winner in 2008 and 2009 of the Regional Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce Small Business Excellence 10 under 10 Award and a finalist in 2010 for the Small Business Excellence award. Robin has been a generalist and consultant for nearly 20 years with healthcare, manufacturing, service, and non-profit org...

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