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:
- Will this decision adversely affect the employee? If yes, go to question 2
- Is the employee in a protected class? If yes, go to question 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.
- “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.
Subscribe to the Leadership Blog
Get the latest research on workplace learning with weekly posts delivered to your inbox