Biases in the Workplace

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Human resources executives are people, too, and as such they have biases. At their core, biases are not meant to be disruptive or malicious, experts say. Rather, they are a natural human survival mechanism used when faced with something new and unknown. Biases become a problem, however, when they go unchecked and impact your decisions at work, says talent management expert Shirley Davis, Ph.D., president of SDS Enterprises in Atlanta.

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A 2007 ?Corporate Leavers Survey? conducted by the Level Playing Field Institute and sponsored in part by Korn/Ferry International, the world?s largest executive search firm, shows that people of color are three times more likely than heterosexual Caucasian men and twice as likely as heterosexual Caucasian women to cite workplace unfairness as the only reason for leaving their employer. The first major review of its kind, the survey explored the effect of unfairness on an employee?s decision to leave, the financial cost to employers of this type of turnover, and what, if anything, employers could have done to prevent this trend. It polled 1,700 corporate professionals and managers who had voluntarily left their employers or volunteered for a layoff within the previous five years and found that unfair treatment of workers based on race, gender and sexual orientation costs U.S. employers $64 billion on an annual basis.?

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That?s a price tag ?nearly equivalent to the 2006 combined revenues of Google, Goldman Sachs, Starbucks and Amazon or the gross domestic product of the 55th wealthiest country in the world,? the survey?s authors said in their executive summary. ?Each year in this country, more than 2 million professionals and managers in today?s increasingly diverse workforce leave their jobs, pushed out by cumulative small comments, whispered jokes and not-so-funny emails.??

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A hiring executive?s unchecked biases can affect who is hired or fired, and who gets a promotion, the coveted assignment or a favorable performance review. To help executives fight these biases, Davis, a former human resources senior leader and corporate executive at Fortune 50, 100 and 500 companies, counsels hiring managers and HR executives on strategies and solutions to promote a diverse workforce. At the same time, she counsels jobseekers to pay close attention to the kind of profile they present to the world.?

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?The first bias that you can encounter is when people look at your picture, see your name, the fraternity, sorority or nonprofit that you are involved with,? Davis says. ?That?s why it is important that you have a very professional picture on professional networks, and that you keep the activities on your r?sum? to work-related activities.?

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For executives, the best ways to fight biases is through education and recognition, she says. Davis offers the following tips on how to fight biases in the workplace.

1. Don?t judge people by their names.

2. Don?t judge people by their physical appearance.

3. Multiple people should be involved in the decision process to avoid bias.

4. Be aware of cultural differences. For example, Asian women are taught not to have a firm handshake.

5. Body language from different cultures means different things.

6. Recruiters need to spend more time with people who are different from them.

7. Respect religious differences.

8. Be willing to learn about new cultures.?