How Does Racial Bias Show Up At Work?

I am a business owner, I am white, and I have years of experience growing up and working in and around people of color. Have I exhibited racist actions in the past – yes. Do I regret having done so – yes. Has it impacted my leadership and management actions – yes! Do I consciously strive to be a racist – no!

I am not going to hesitate or equivocate with the answers to these or other similar questions. I grew up in a family with roots in Southern America and in New England. It was quite a challenge spending the summer in the south, especially with a mother who cautioned – no – educated me – to be kind to all people, regardless of their color or race. Yes, I remember the water fountains in the food store – one was labeled “whites only” the other was labeled “colored only.”  Not a good memory but a good reminder of how my southern relatives and others regarded people of color.  And after these many years, that picture still is a vivid reminder of racism. Ignorance yes, as well as racism.

I have been a business owner, a chief executive, a department head in a variety of businesses, many of them in the government sector. I was an affirmative action officer when it was not a fashionable title nor an easy role.

As an owner, I run a professional search firm. I strive to ensure that all my search activities are respectful of each applicant’s qualifications.  It is hard to screen a candidate just through a cover letter and résumé, but I think I do ok.  Interviews – now through Zoom – or in person are respectful – that is what my mother expected – and I fully appreciate the lessons she provided.

Racial bias can show up in small and large ways –

  • not making eye contact with a person of color when s/he is speaking,
  • not listening to what a person of color is trying to communicate, or
  • dismissing a person of color’s recommendation out of hand without having a more engaged and substantive discussion.

Yes, I am sure you are thinking – “I do this to everyone!”  Well, if you do, it is not only a sign of disrespect to another person – it is also a racial bias.  Uncovering it and rectifying it can be a life-long pursuit especially if you have been, like me, exposed to it my whole life.

How can we reduce racial bias in our work settings?  First, become aware of it. Racial bias happens.  Next, become more aware of the impact your implicit bias may have on your business decision-making process.

For instance, make sure you extend every effort to make personnel recruitment color-blind. In my own hiring experiences, I have made efforts to hiring people of color. Not only have they delivered excellent performance, they have become great colleagues over the years.

If you find a candidate who is flat out excellent – regardless of color or nationality – offer them a job, or in my instance, work with my client to recommend the person, and coach the owner through the interview and hiring process.  I have often found that employers have a similar implicit bias against people of color – and others do not. It is always worth the conversation with the employer to make sure that they are making a well-informed choice.

Need to know where you stand? In one of my assessments I measure “Freedom from Prejudice” meaning your ability to prevent prejudices from entering into and affecting an interpersonal relationship. If you are interested, take this complimentary assessment.

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