Bias in the Workplace and How It Is Destroying Your Work Culture

By Tom Borg

A few weeks back, I was participating in a webinar on the topic of how to run your own webinar. (Sounds like a great topic.) It was the type of webinar where you could see the other participants. Towards the end of the webinar, the instructor asked a question about the level of interest we had in enrolling in the upcoming course he would be teaching.

“It’s not at all hard to understand a person; it’s only hard to listen without bias.”

Criss Jami

Being an open and expressive sort of guy, I spoke up. I explained that I really wasn’t interested in learning the technical aspects of conducting a webinar, as I was more interested in having someone handle the technical side of it and I would focus on presenting my ideas.

Another person spoke up and made it clear that, since she was a Gen Xer, she didn’t have some of the hang-ups a Boomer generation person (that’s me) might have, about learning the technical aspects of how to run a webinar.

I perceived that I was being dissed for being older than she was. I must admit her remark stung a bit.

This experience got me thinking about the workplace bias that permeates all organizations. When you stop to think, workplace bias is all around us. Some of the areas people are biased in include:

• Age group

• Religion

• Race

• Ethnic group

• Gender

• Women with children

• Gender preference

• Body type (big, small, fat, skinny, etc.)

• Behavioral style (assertive, extroverted, introverted, analytical, etc.)

• Personality style (emotional, stern, aggressive, passive, etc.)

• Political affiliation

• Educational background (high grad, college grad, PhD., etc.)

• Geographic location a person is from (south, north, west, east part of the country)

• Job title (CEO, president, owner, manager, programmer, front liner, etc.)

Those are just some of the areas for bias. I’m sure you could add a few more to the list.

Consider this. In his book “Blink,” Malcolm Gladwell reported that, “Less than 15% of American men are over six feet tall, yet almost 60% of corporate CEOs are over six feet tall. Less than 4% of American men are over six feet, two inches tall, yet more than 36% of corporate CEOs are over six feet, two inches tall.”

Consider the bias against women in corporate America. According to the Center for American Progress, “Women’s presence in top management positions today remains below nine percent.”

These are just two examples of the gender bias that exists.

Any time people sense they are given different or unfair treatment because of a bias the other person is holding against them, it can create a rift. Your team members can withhold being open and honest with others whom they perceive as being someone they cannot trust—because that person is not like them.

In my first career as a park and recreation director, I remember the bias I felt the first time I met with the park commission at one of its monthly meetings. The park commission was the elected board of residents from the township where I worked. They made the decisions that would affect the development of the parks and the recreational programs I was responsible for initiating and administering.

There I was, a freshly graduated college student with my bachelor’s degree, boundless enthusiasm and my head filled with great ideas that I was eager to implement.

Unfortunately, at that first meeting, the park commissioner did not take the time to introduce me when I came into the room. As the meeting progressed, I spoke up with a suggestion. One of the commissioners, Bob Haddick, a grufflooking man with a deep gravelly voice, looked over at me and bluntly stated, “If we want your opinion, we’ll ask for it.” You could feel the temperature in the whole room drop ten degrees. I was speechless.

At that point, my bias needle for this “conservative farmer” jumped to the far right. He fed any bias I might have had against older board members, and I had a hunch I fed his bias against young people with new college degrees.

Fortunately, there is a happy ending to that first encounter with Bob Haddick. He later apologized for his somewhat “unique” way of greeting me. In the years that followed, he became a good friend and supporter for my ideas and initiatives at that township.

Unfortunately, there were other members on that board with a bias against me that I never was able to overcome. Consequently, I was unable to tap into their creativity and support, to create an even more successful and productive relationship.

I might add that this mutual bias I held against those other board members played a significant role in my leaving that job.

What about your green industry business or organization? How much bias exists in it? How does it restrict the day-to-day fulfillment of your company’s mission and purpose? How does it restrict your people working together to tap each other’s talents and abilities? How does it stymie your team’s ability to live out its purpose through its work? Does it encourage your best people to seek employment elsewhere? What kind of an impact does it have on serving your customers? And, how much money is this costing your company in lost profits?

These are serious questions that deserve your time and consideration.

What can you do to address the issue of bias in the workplace at your company? Well, what do you do when there is a pink elephant in the room? You sure don’t want to ignore him. Rather, the best thing to do is point him out, find out his name, ride him around, and get to know him or her.

In other words, admit that workplace bias exists in your organization. Hold a meeting with your entire team to discuss this topic. Lead a discussion, asking for examples of how it might be happening on a day-to-day basis. Ask your team if it feels that it could be hindering the company’s overall ability to create the kind of business where employees and managers love to work, and produce the kind of profitable customer experience that pleases the people it serves. Create and implement an ongoing strategy to systematically address and resolve the biases that exist in your workplace.

If you feel that this approach could be uncomfortable to implement, call in an outside consultant like myself, to facilitate this type of meeting. I would be happy to lead you and your team through a structured program to address and start eliminating workplace bias.

Once you create and implement an ongoing strategy to address workplace bias, your company will be well on the way to actualizing its full potential.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Tom Borg is an employee performance and customer-experience expert who works with small businesses and organizations in the green industry to improve customer acquisition and retention. To ask him a question or to hire Tom, contact him at: 734- 404-5909 or tom@tomborg.comor www.tomborgconsulting.com