How bias can sneak into decision-making

by on October 6, 2010 · 4 Comments POSTED IN: HR Cafe
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Anybody who watches the TV show Mad Men is a bit shocked by the blatant discrimination that occurred in the early 1960s, particularly against women. If you had a lawsuit buzzer on the coffee table while watching the show, it would go off about every five minutes.

Today discrimination is rarely that blatant. It’s often very subtle. It’s also very costly if you step over the line. Consider, for example, the well-known gender case called Lewis v. City of Chicago.

A group of employees, mostly male, were asked if they’d like to go to a conference in Washington. A supervisor decided that everybody had to double up on rooms to save money. So he sent out a memo saying that “no lone female” could attend. Turns out that only one woman expressed interest, so the boss said no.

The woman, who felt the conference was important to her development, sued for sexual discrimination. She won because the court felt the manager’s decision looked like it was motivated less by saving money than by excluding women from this trip. Ms. Lewis won a hefty judgment. (It didn’t help the company’s case that some of the men were allowed to take single rooms.)

The Self-Check Technique
Before you make a decision that concerns an employee, you need to ask four “self-check” questions:

  1. Will this decision adversely affect the employee? If yes, go to question 2
  2. Is the employee in a protected class? If yes, go to question 3
  3. What potential biases, conscious or unconscious, could affect my judgment (e.g., gender, disability, race, age, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, maybe something else)? If you can identify any potential biases, go to question 4.
  4. “Am I doing this for the right reasons, or is one of my biases influencing this decision?”

Here’s the point: We all have biases. So you can’t make a “bias-free” decision. But you can use this technique to recognize your biases, assess whether they might harm an employee, and make a decision that’s fair.

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4 Comments on This Post

  1. Acssearch
    October 6, 2010 - 5:20 pm

    With respect – anyone who believes that discrmination today is not blatant, is definitely never been in put in a position that is discriminatory.

    For the individual who is being discriminated against.. it is Blatant, it is in your face blatant. It is create a chip on your shoulder blatant.. to the point of where self preservation can become self sabatoge blatant..

    another fyi – there is no longer a protected class in America.. we are all protected equally under the law. A white male has the same rights as that as black female.

  2. Acssearch
    October 6, 2010 - 5:20 pm

    With respect – anyone who believes that discrmination today is not blatant, is definitely never been in put in a position that is discriminatory.

    For the individual who is being discriminated against.. it is Blatant, it is in your face blatant. It is create a chip on your shoulder blatant.. to the point of where self preservation can become self sabatoge blatant..

    another fyi – there is no longer a protected class in America.. we are all protected equally under the law. A white male has the same rights as that as black female.

  3. October 12, 2010 - 4:08 pm

    Twitter Talk – October 12, 2010 « Human Rights in the Workplace | Donna Seale

  4. October 12, 2010 - 4:08 pm

    Twitter Talk – October 12, 2010 « Human Rights in the Workplace | Donna Seale

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