Hidden Bias Causes Workplace Bullying

Hidden Bias Fuels Workplace Bullying

Have you ever looked around your office and noticed if the managers are primarily men? Are the clerical workers predominantly women? What’s the nonwhite to white ratio of employees? These observations go unnoticed in the day-to-day work environment, but addressing these issues is the only way to lead to change.

What is Hidden Bias?

Today, racism, sexism and/or homophobia are not typically as vocally apparent or present. Instead, hidden biases are what dominate the workplace. This type of discrimination appears in the unconscious level based on upbringing, identity, culture, and mass media and it shapes the way you view people and how you behave towards them.

Having hidden biases does not make you a bad person, since everyone has them. It’s uncomfortable to acknowledge this, but recognizing the lens you look through helps you step away and notice how you treat people that are different from you. These differences could include a number of characteristics, such as:

  • height and weight,
  • introversion and extroversion,
  • marital status,
  • disability status,
  • foreign accents,
  • hobbies and extracurricular activities,
  • sexual identity,
  • gender identity and
  • expression, race, ethnicity, and many others.

Hidden Bias Can Lead to a Tough Work Environment

But how do these hidden biases lead to a non-diverse work environment? Well, think about the hiring process. In interviews, one of the main objectives is for the two people to connect and see whether they would be a good fit in the company. This “connection” though is most easily achieved when discussing similarities. This could be that they attended the same university, are from the same hometown, or their kids play the same sport. This connection makes the person to appear like they would be a good cultural fit, because the HR employee fits in the company well. But with this phenomenon consistently occurring, and people recruiting similar people, the company becomes very homogeneous.

Another element in this issue occurs even before the interview. A study from the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that resumes with “white-sounding” names receive 50% more callbacks than those with “black-sounding” names. This could be an intentional decision decided by whoever is doing the hiring. This also could be as simple as the HR person who is making the calls is Caucasian and is uncomfortable with pronouncing unfamiliar names, so they gravitate toward easily pronounced names. Whatever reason, there needs to be a way of eliminating this issue. Many companies are conducting “blind” reviews of resumes by removing them of any identifying information, like name and gender.

Most recruiters and HR managers are taught to avoid acting differently around people based on obvious traits like gender or age. But these hidden biases are harder to recognize. Does a married man makes him appear more stable? Does the applicant speak with a Southern accent, making her appear not very smart? Is she a single mother, making her appear unreliable? These unconscious observations based what society and mass media have dictated are a big cause in not having diversity in the workplace.

Harvard performed IAT tests (take them here) that showed that certain words like “men” and “career” are closely related. Also, 75% of the participants, including some black individuals, displayed an implicit preference of white people over black people. It also showed that people prefer thin people over overweight people, heterosexuals over homosexuals, and young over old people. People make snap judgments based on these biases without even realizing and it is hurting the workplace.

Workplace Bullying

Having these kinds of biases, and not having diversity in the workplace, can unfortunately lead to workplace bullying. Things like constantly being interrupted in meetings, all your opinions being shot down, and people gossipping about you are all examples that create a hostile work environment for the employee.

But why is this a result of hidden bias? Because people are uncomfortable when they experience people who are different from them. They use the societal norms that they are taught and unconsciously label anyone different from them as strange.

In fact, a study at Stanford looked at people who are transgender in the workplace to look at their experiences before and after transitioning. The transmen all had similar experiences. When they identified as women, people constantly asked them to defend their opinions. They were interrupted in meetings, and asked if their boyfriends helped them solve the tough math problems. When they identified as men, however, people (who didn’t know they had transitioned) suddenly started respecting them more. They were “taking charge” instead of “aggressive,” they were not interrupted in meetings anymore, and they were shown a lot more respect.

It’s hard to believe that even today, such biased actions and bullying occurs in the workplace. It’s our job as a corporate environment to not sit along the sidelines. By acknowledging our differences and limitations, we can begin to work towards a more diverse, welcoming workplace environment.

 Need Help with Hidden Bias and Workplace Bullying?

As expert on workplace bullying, Tim can help your organization put an end to this issue. Contact Tim or call 330-730-3424 to ask him to present his Tim’s Talk, 8 Effective Measurements to Stop Workplace Bullying,  to your corporation, organization or church.

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