Detecting and Addressing Hidden Bias

"Every man has reminiscences which he would not tell to everyone but only his friends. He has other matters in his mind which he would not reveal even to his friends, but only to himself, and that in secret. But there are other things which a man is afraid to tell even to himself, and every decent man has a number of such things stored away in his mind."

-- Fyodor DostoyevskySHRM Online (Society of Human Resources Management) has an excellent article this month on detecting and addressing hidden bias in the workplace. SHRM describes hidden bias this way:

Two people--one a nattily dressed young white man, the other a middle-aged black woman who is slightly overweight--apply for a job with your organization. They seem equally qualified, but the hiring manager has an inexplicable and slightly negative reaction to the woman. "I just can't put my finger on it," he tells you, "but I don't think she'll be a good fit." You agree, admitting you just have a feeling the male applicant would be a better performer.

Are you, or is your hiring manager, harboring a bias against this female applicant--perhaps one based on age, sex, race or physical appearance? If so, is that bias unduly influencing your collective hiring decision?

According to the article, some argue that greater societal and legal attention has driven overt bias underground, turning it into a hidden bias that's tougher to recognize and rectify.
People don't overtly say, "We don't hire African-Americans or women or disabled people." Instead, they use more cloaked language, "and that's oftentimes harder to capture and respond to."Such discrimination "is just as illegal, hurtful and destructive as overt discrimination," notes the article. "And ... enforcement agencies like the EEOC and lawyers out there see it as such."Indeed.

The article has several links to interesting related items, such as an Implicit Association Test designed by researchers at Harvard University as a tool to gain greater awareness about individuals' own unconscious preferences and beliefs. In a nutshell, the test looks for hidden bias in the test taker. I took one of the example tests and it determined that I have a "moderate" unconscious bias in favor of light skinned people over dark skinned people. Not all that surprising, as most people tend to have a bias in favor of people that look more like themselves. It could be a useful tool for HR professionals and other managers to take to show them that such bias exists and that they should be aware of it when making employment-related decisions.

Related Links: Detecting Hidden Bias - Resources for Employees Hidden Bias - A Primer (from at the Southern Poverty Law Center)________________________________Don't forget to listen to our weekly Podcast:This Week in Employment Law.Sexual Harassment, Pregnancy Discrimination, Age Discrimination, San Antonio, Employment Lawyer