We counsel employers to leave their biases at the door when making employment decisions, be it recruiting, discipline, promotion or termination. But how reasonable is that instruction? Not very, according to a number of tests and surveys that show that each one of us carries biases and prejudices, many of which may be unnoticed, that inevitably play a role in our decisions.
For example, a 2003 study by sociologist Devah Pager measured the effect of a criminal record on a job search. Ms. Pager sent pairs of young, well-groomed, well-spoken college men with identical resumes to apply for 350 advertised entry-level jobs in Milwaukee. The only difference was that one said he had served an 18-month prison sentence for cocaine possession. Two teams were black, two white. A telephone survey of the same employers followed. For her black testers, the callback rate was 5 percent if they had a criminal record and 14 percent if they did not. For whites, it was 17 percent with a criminal record and 34 percent without. My guess is that most of the employers did not consider themselves racist.
Similarly, judgments based on a person’s appearance generally reveal prejudices about age, gender, and disability. This was precisely the case with Abercrombie & Fitch, which paid $50 million to settle the EEOC’s case resulting from Abercrombie’s “restrictive marketing image” (i.e. pretty young white people) and recruiting and hiring practices that excluded minorities and women. Also as part of the settlement, Abercrombie agreed to ensure that its marketing materials “reflect diversity.”
While it may be impossible to completely abolish our biases, being aware of the existence and extent of our own prejudices can weaken their influence on our decisions. Take a look at your own biases and prejudices by taking a test at Harvard University’s Project Implicit: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/demo/takeatest.html
You may be surprised by the results!