Biases, Prejudice and Blind Spots

As human resources professionals we are faced with a variety of employment related decisions on a daily basis. As no shock to each of us, we see biases and prejudices whether hidden or overt that affect these decisions STILL today. The situations I observe are amazing and get responses from others like “wow – that still happens today?” Yes – it does! You’ve seen it too! Can we afford to have these biases in our workplaces when we are in the midst of a war for talent? We need skills and need to continue to take the steps to minimize the influence of these biases in the workplace.

The biases and prejudices come in all forms –

 Race (minority)

– Whether it is a biased position against hiring an African American, Hispanic, or Muslim, I run into issues nearly each week with a hiring manager bluntly saying “we don’t want a minority in this position.”

 Age (old and young)

-“I want someone young and spunky for this position. The older candidates won’t have the energy and they will retire before they even get started.” -“He looks too young and our customers won’t have respect and trust for someone that is younger than their socks.”

 Gender (female and male)

-“She’s got a family. How could she possibly be committed to our company and juggle the needs of her children?”

 Weight (heavy and thin)

-“She’s too heavy, would not be able to keep up, and would just be teased by everyone. Plus, don’t heavy people have hygiene problems?”

 Sexual orientation

-“Our workforce isn’t ready for someone with homosexual preferences.”


-“I need to hire someone that is the opposite personality of me to balance my strengths and weaknesses.”

The list is endless…why do any of these issues make a difference in how someone will perform on the job? They shouldn’t, but for some reason these differences and others are influencing decisions when they should not. For years now, I have run across situations like these nearly every day. I put on my HR consultant hat and begin with the legal ramifications of these statements AND help the individual understand what they are missing out on by not looking at the individual’s skills and capabilities. Sometimes, I succeed but other times the company and society misses out! With the labor skills shortage, the organizations that “get it” are the ones that will succeed AND help society tear down these continued biases.

For some of you, I’m preaching to the choir. You probably have as many if not more stories that you could share.But what about the hidden biases that exist without our knowing of them? We have to battle these too. In a recent article titled “Watch Out for the Minefield of Hidden Bias” by Pamela Babcock, Ms.

Babcock sited an outstanding tool to help identified these hidden biases in ourselves and others. A Harvard University research team created a series of Implicitly Association Test (IAT) .As a result, they found a number of folks have hidden and unconscious biases that may unintentionally be affecting employment decisions. The highest levels of bias were relative to black, elderly, disabled, and overweight individuals. However, the studies showed if you are aware of your unconscious bias you can control how it influences decisions by ensuring your focus is on job related characteristics.

Here are some simple steps to help you be proactive in your organization in continuing to help us focus on individuals’ abilities, accepting them for who they are, and surviving the skills crisis all at once:

Check out the Implicitly Association Test. Try it yourself and encourage others to try it too. You’ll be surprised at the results and how it makes you think.

Learn to accept your biases and find ways to overcome them and focus on attributes of individuals that truly impact the situation – job related skills!

Identify the job related skills needed for a position. Interview, evaluate, and promote based on job related skills. Don’t make decisions for the person based on what you think they may do (i.e. he is 55 – why would he want this job? He’ll just quit and retire in 5 years; she is about to get married – she’ll just end up having kids and quitting her job; he is a minority and others won’t accept him)

Engage a group of individuals in employment decision making to try to overcome biases and prejudices. However, be sure you are not creating “group think” where you are always trying to hire or promote individuals like your group.

Continue to educate others on the value of accepting and embracing the differences we all bring to the table. It is what fosters creativity and makes an organization succeed!

Obviously prejudices and biases hit a very sore spot for many of us. If someone is accused of being prejudiced they become extremely defensive. That is not the goal of this article. There are many ways you can use this data but at least consider this…We are in a labor shortage. Every individual has unique skills and abilities and we need to find a way to hone in and focus on those skills and abilities in order to navigate through this shortage. If we let overt or even hidden biases stop us from hiring the best candidates for the job, our companies will ultimately be impacted. Additionally, we are throwing ourselves back decades in history by not educating ourselves, managers, employees, and community on accepting everyone for who they are no matter what their differences may be.

Blind Spots

There are grizzled heroes and sleek assassins in movies who don’t have metaphorical blind spots. They do have literal ones, though. Because of the way the eye is constructed, every human being does.

For the most part, the human eye gives the brain an accurate picture of what’s going on in the world. There are limitations. Although many birds and insects can see ultraviolet, and some creatures can see infrared, humans are stuck looking at so-called ‘visible’ light only. This cuts down human’s view of the world, not letting them see the urine trails left behind by some mammals, and not letting them fully appreciate the colors of certain flowers, which have evolved to put on quite a show in ultraviolet while remaining plain in visible light. The human eye also can’t distinguish between polarized and nonpolarized light, while many cephalopods and some birds can.

Still, the eye sends back signals that let humans navigate through the world pretty successfully. Many assume that what they see is actually what’s out there. That’s not entirely true. Each human eye has a blind spot, and the brain sometimes has to fill in what is there by looking at the surrounding area.

Light gets into they eye by passing through the pupil. It hits the retina at the back of th eye. The retina is covered with light-sensing proteins. They relay what they sense to the optic nerve which carries the information back into the brain. The problem is, the optic nerve ends in the field of the retina itself.

This is a little like having to plug the power cable for a TV directly into the screen. It creates a dark spot. Most of the time, the other eye will see what’s happening in its partner’s blind, but if the blind spots overlap while looking at a certain object, or if the person is only looking through one eye, the brain just fills in the spot looking at the surrounding picture.

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By Hassham

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