It would be nice to think that you and your company’s experienced line managers are all totally non-prejudiced individuals. You’re reasonable people, you know the laws on workplace discrimination, and you steer carefully clear of any kind of discrimination against ANY employee.

But does that mean you’re completely bias-free? Unfortunately, no.

The problem isn’t that you INTEND to discriminate. Rather, it’s that EVERYBODY, no matter how well-meaning, harbors certain unconscious biases that can crop up at the most inconvenient times – like when deciding who to hire, or whether to promote somebody, or what discipline to mete out to someone.

What do we mean by an unconscious bias? Here are a few examples:

  • Young people are lazy
  • Old people can’t learn new things
  • New parents aren’t reliable because they have child care needs

Ideas like these lurk in all of our brains, whether completely or partially submerged. They’re part of the way we build our construct of the world: We paint simplified pictures that allow us to lead our daily lives without holding a mental filibuster over EVERY action.

Now of course, the law doesn’t police the contents of your brain. But if you ACT on biases like these, you are very likely to get in trouble.

So what can you do?

Well, you could try what we call the “Self-Check Technique.” It involves asking yourself four questions before you take personnel action involving any employee. They are:

  • Will this action adversely affect the person?
  • Is the person in a protected class?
  • What are my potential biases (i.e., gender, race, disability, etc.)?
  • Am I doing this for the right reason, or is one of my biases affecting my decision?

By doing this kind of self check, you can avoid acting on unconscious prejudices that get you into a mess you’ll be all too conscious of.

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