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Discrimination at Work Erodes Employee Effectiveness

Everyone knows that discrimination is wrong, and yet workplace bias remains a prevalent yet subtle trend that has the potential to erode productivity and engagement in the workforce.

 In an industry and a sector where finding and retaining skilled labor is paramount to success, electronics OEMs, distributors, and component makers need to work to ensure that discrimination doesn’t take a bite of their efforts.

The results of workplace discrimination are costly. More than one quarter (27%) of those who experience discrimination at work report the bias to be “common, impactful and beyond their ability to manage,” a new study by VitalSmarts, a leadership training company, found. The result is employees who are frustrated, stressed, depressed and feeling helplessness on the job. 

In the high-tech sector and supply chain management function, organizations continue to struggle to ensure equal opportunities. Addressing discrimination deliberately can help—and even one person speaking up can make a difference.  David Maxfield, vice president of research at VitalSmarts said:

Women and some minorities (African Americans and Hispanics) are underrepresented at all levels within the Tech Sector. Many tech firms are working very hard to correct this underrepresentation. Facebook, Google, Cisco, and others are supporting long-term efforts, such as Black Girls Code. These firms are also taking more immediate steps to improve their recruiting and retention of minority and women employees. Underrepresentation is not the same as discrimination. However, when a group is as underrepresented as women, African Americans, and Hispanics are in tech, unintentional and unconscious discrimination becomes likely.

Maxfield and Judith Honesty, CEO of Honesty Consulting, did research on workplace discrimination. As part of the study, Maxfield and Honesty asked 500 victims of discrimination to share their experiences. In simple terms, discrimination results in workplace incidences where someone feels unwelcome, excluded, discounted, or disadvantaged because of who they are—their race, age, gender, national origin, religion, physical or mental disability, medical condition, pregnancy, marital status or sexual orientation.

The infographic below outlines some of the common attributes of workplace discrimination and outlines seven common types of discrimination. “We catalogued hundreds of moments where victims were left questioning others' intentions and their own perceptions,” Honesty said. “The inner litany sounds a bit like, 'I'm upset, but I don't know if I should be, or if I have a right to be.' At best, this shadowy bias is exhausting. At worst, it's soul destroying to both the individual and the organization.”

Next page: Ending workplace discrimination

Organizations can do a lot to end workplace discrimination by teaching good communication skills. “Our research shows people who initiate honest, frank and respectful dialogue build understanding and cultures of respect,” Maxfield told EBN. “These are the kinds of cultures that promote rather than erode performance and engagement.”

He offered five skills to confront and reduce subtle to overt forms of bias in the workplace:

  1. Use CPR:  When confronting bias, should you talk about the content (a one-time incident), the pattern (a series of incidents), or the relationship (the impact of a pattern on your ability to work productively with others)? Many stories described “micro-inequities”—small incidents that wouldn't be worth addressing except that they are a part of a pervasive pattern. If you confront the one-time incident, you're likely to be accused of over-reacting. However, by addressing a larger pattern or relationship concern, you can demonstrate that these micro-inequities add up to big impacts.
  2. Start with heart:  Before you speak up, identify what you really want to happen. Is it enough for the bad behavior to stop? Or do you want an apology, punishment, and reparations? Also consider that you're likely going into the conversation with a lifetime of grievances. How responsible is the person in front of you for that history? Likely, he or she plays a smaller role than what you may be attributing to his or her actions.
  3. Master my stories:  Before speaking up, separate the stories you bring to the situation from the facts of the other person's actions. Only then, can you master your own strong emotions.
  4. State my path:  Discover what really  just happened—no apologies, no self-repression, no accusations, and no indictments. Begin with the detailed facts, then tentatively suggest what the facts mean to you.
  5. Make it Safe:  Is a person who exhibits unconscious bias automatically a bigot? If so, then we're all bigots. It's challenging to describe biased behavior without the other person feeling attacked.

Further, tracking clear metrics can help organizations focus on making a measurable change. “Organizations can track hard measures: employee pipeline (new hires, supervisors,  managers, executives, etc.); performance reviews and internal promotions; compensation; attrition, etc. If appropriate, they can set goals for some of these measures,” Maxfield said. “Organizations can also track ‘leading indicator’ measures: Surveys that measure perceived support; perceived barriers; and desire to advance.”

Managers should be mindful for potential unintentional decimation. Some questions that can help spot it:  

  • Is there unintentional bias in our job descriptions—research shows that the words used make a big difference?
  • In where we recruit—do we include colleges that have many women and minorities?
  • In our hiring process? For example, research shows that “hiring cohorts of people” results in more diverse hiring than “hiring individuals.” In addition, research shows that applicants with Hispanic or African-American sounding names get far fewer callbacks. Perhaps names should be blanked out at some phases of the process.
  • Is the physical appearance of our workplace unwelcoming to some—Star Wars posters, etc.? 

In the end, addressing workplace bias is hugely helpful not just to employees but also the organization. “There are several business reasons for reducing bias/discrimination,” Maxfield said. Maxfield offered three examples:

  • When your workforce looks very different from your customers, you are likely to miss the mark with your customers. For example, there are lots of examples of businesses that have created products that were unintentionally optimized for men—because the designers were men.
  • When your workplace includes discrimination/bias, you lose the contributions those people would bring as employees. Suppose our hiring system unintentionally excluded people who were taller than 5 foot 10 inches? We’d lose a lot of talent, mostly male talent in this case.
  • A workplace that seeks out and solves discrimination/bias becomes more self-aware and deliberate. They become more welcoming to all, not just more welcoming to women and minorities. 

Let us know about your experiences, good or bad, in the comments section below. 

— Hailey Lynne McKeefry, Editor in Chief, EBN Circle me on Google+ Follow me on Twitter Visit my LinkedIn page Friend me on Facebook

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