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Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

In February, I interviewed Suzanne Wertheim of Worthwhile Research and Consulting regarding the ways people communicate in the workplace.  Dr. Wertheim recently wrote an article for Fast Company regarding The Common Habit That Undermines Organizations’ Diversity Efforts.  The article talks about how unconscious bias can lead to “unconscious demotions.”

Dr. Wertheim is a linguistic anthropologist and Founder/CEO of Worthwhile Research and Consulting. She writes and teaches about language, bias, and diversity.  She is a great educator and a wealth of knowledge.  Her article discusses some  less-discussed consequences of unconscious bias–i.e., demotions in the workplace–and what people can do to try to avoid common pitfalls.

In her article, Dr. Wertheim shares an interesting anecdote about a party-goer who mistakenly assumes an African-American attending the party was a waiter, when in fact he was a state senator.  That senator, later became President of the United States. There is no indication that the faux pas was intentional, and by all accounts there was no indication of express bias on the party-goer’s part.  Nonetheless, it is those unconscious biases that oftentimes direct our points of view and distort our perspective.

More and more studies are realizing the impact of unconscious bias in our lives and the workplace.  Understanding that unconscious bias exists is a first step toward recognizing that we all make judgments based on our past experiences and our subconscious can make connections between two categories of things when there really is no connection (e.g., assuming a person of color is the waiter instead of a senator).

Making employment decisions based on unconscious bias regarding someone’s age, race, gender, etc. is just as illegal as making a conscious decision regarding someone’s employment based on a protected category.  I highly recommend you read Dr. Wertheim’s article and consider how your environment is impacted by unconscious bias.

Original article by Robert E. Nuddleman of Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C.

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