Recently, I had the fortunate experience of sitting through a six-hour workshop which focused on implicit bias in the workplace. Implicit biases are your opinions, beliefs, and stance on a multitude of issues and topics that are made at the subconscious level. For the most past, we are mostly aware of our opinions, beliefs, and stances on a conscious, cognitive, level. To dive deeper means to stare into the mirror of introspection and ask ourselves: Why?
In order to answer this question honestly, one must take a step back to reflect on things such as birthplace, neighborhood, family dynamics, socio-economic status, religious upbringing, etc. In other words, start to think about the common experiences that begin to shape our values. Those values, likely on a subconscious level, begin to formulate how we view the world, and how we may or may not judge the people that are living in it.
Throughout the six hours, I began to reflect back on decisions I have made, as well as others I have worked with, that may or may not have been the result of implicit bias. As a Human Resources professional I have always striven to fairly assess a situation based on a set of facts, and based on those facts, I make decisions. Even with this aspiration I am still interpreting these facts through the lens of my own experiences, and that could result in a decision based on implicit bias. Did I not hire someone or agree to terminate someone based on a personal set of subconscious values?
As you can see, the workshop brings up many provocative questions and forces a great deal of self-examination. As a white male who grew up in an intact household with both parents,in an all-white, middle-class neighborhood, surrounded with all-white friends, the percentages were high that I would live my life through this lens. As I grew older, I worked for over two years in an urban mall, where I was the only white person employed (all African-American staff), with a 75% African-American clientèle. Shortly thereafter, I married a Hispanic female. My white bubble was burst. I began to see that my lens was changing. Even later, I had experiences living abroad, and then even after that, coming out as a white, homosexual male, and now a married one at that. All of these experiences have contributed to how I view the world, and formulate how I live my life, and … influence how I do my job.
In the few days that have transpired since the workshop, a few thoughts have lingered in my mind. Firstly, I work in a very culturally diverse environment, with a representation of people from many generations, many races, many national origins, etc. The chances are significant where I am asked to intervene in situations involving employees that are different than me (non-white, heterosexual, etc.). I wonder when they see me for the first time, what do they see? Do they see just some white guy unable to relate to them in any way? The bias works both ways. Everyone has bias. How we move beyond our biases is what is most important to me.
I also thought back to an unfortunate incident that took place a number of years ago. An older woman who I knew was seeking employment as a receptionist or administrative assistant. Economically, she was not doing well, and just getting by. She had been laid off from a previous employer who had closed shop. She was the administrative assistant there for over 20 years. She was short, heavy-set, gray-haired, and did not dress to the nines, but from a job requirement perspective, she checked all the boxes. She was so excited she had been granted an interview, and put on her best business suit. She arrived for the interview, and before she even opened her mouth, I could see a “You have to be kidding me” expression on the hiring manager’s face. The hiring manager was a woman of wealth, and she had her own image of what the administrative assistant should look like. My referral was definitely not it. Needless to say, the interview was over before it started, and did not last more than ten minutes. It was clear; the experiences that this woman brought to the table did not matter.
If anything, after this workshop, I am certainly on a journey to continue exploring and tuning into my personal biases, and I am ready to challenge others to do the same. As the preceding paragraph has illustrated, if implicit bias is allowed to take hold, we may never allow ourselves to discover talents, such as Susan Boyle (check out her audition video) again.
- Richard Finger has worked in Human Resources for over 20 years and has worked with small, private organizations, global corporations, and most currently, a healthcare organization. Richard has worked abroad a number of years in England as well as The Netherlands, where he acquired a great appreciation for cultural awareness. He currently holds three Human Resource Certifications (SHRM-SCP, SPHR, SPHRi), and is also teaching the SHRM-CP/SHRM-SCP preparation course at Howard County Community College. Richard earned his Bachelor Degree in Psychology at University of Central Florida, and Master Degree in Human Resources Management & Labor Relations at New York Institute of Technology. Richard has been writing for Baltimore Outloud for a number of years, contributing articles about his Human Resources experiences, as well as moonlighting as the author of Finger's Food restaurant reviews. Richard has enjoyed writing for the paper, and looks forward to many more opportunities to do so.