If there’s one thing a manager shouldn’t be in today’s business environment, it’s prejudiced – against elderly employees, employees with disabilities, employees of one gender or the other, or employees of certain racial, national or religious groups.

And yet, human beings are all prejudiced, to some extent.

Really? Yep. But it’s not entirely our fault as individuals.

Odd as it may sound, prejudices have helped the human species survive over the millennia. Early man, living in a dangerous world, found it helpful or even life-saving to make assumptions that every member of a group behaves similarly. Imagine Joe Caveman facing a big bear; he wouldn’t have wanted to stop and inquire whether that particular bear was really as ferocious as all the rest.

Today, though, such generalized judgments, when they’re about groups of people, are called prejudices. And if managers act on them, they’re likely to commit acts of discrimination that will get their employers sued, sometimes with very costly results.

So, if managers are as naturally prejudiced as anybody else, what can you do to avoid acting on your biases? Well, most likely your organization has given you a good start, by creating policies that call for fair, balanced treatment of all employees. If you observe these policies, you’re much less likely to commit intentional discrimination.

But you can still get in trouble if you fail to realize that you’re acting – unintentionally – in a way that a court might consider biased.

Still not convinced that you could be prejudiced? Consider these examples of common biases, and ask yourself, “Can I honestly say I’ve never had a thought like this?”

  • Women are too emotional
  • Men are insensitive
  • Old people are inflexible
  • Religious people are intolerant

We rest our case.

Fortunately, there’s an easy four-step method to help managers figure out whether you’re at risk, and get you back on track. It involves asking yourself these four questions:

  • Will this decision adversely affect the employee?
  • Is the employee in a protected class?
  • What are my potential biases (e.g., gender, disability, race, age, national origin, religion, sexual orientation)?
  • Ask: “Am I doing this for the right reasons, or is one of my biases influencing my decision?”

If you are honest with yourself and can answer these questions truthfully, it will be much easier to keep your internal biases in check and out of your work.

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