What’s in a name? Bias in the workplace

March 13, 2017 1 COMMENTS

As Shakespeare wrote, “that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” But there is in fact much to a namea name can convey a sense of identity, culture, and family history. Recently, a series of viral tweets illustrated how much something as simple as a name could affect an individual’s employment.  Business woman versus man corporate ladder career concept vector illustration

A man and his female coworker conducted an experiment whereby they switched their e-mail signatures for two weeks. The series of tweets describes the man’s struggle to gain clients’ respect when using his female coworker’s name.

The experiment started when, because of a shared inbox, the man accidentally e-mailed a client with his female coworker’s signature line. He received a lot of pushback and attitude from the client. Upon realizing the mix-up with the e-mail signature , he switched back to his name and continued communicating in the same way with the client. He said he noticed an immediate improvement and positive reception from the client when he reverted to his real name. The man claimed his advice to the client never changed, only the fact that he was signing the e-mails with a man’s name instead of a woman’s name.

So the coworkers decided to switch names for two weeks. The man described his negative experience using his female coworker’s name, tweeting that everything he asked or suggested was questioned and that one client even asked if he was single. Meanwhile, he reported his female coworker had the most productive weeks of her career. The man stated he learned his female coworker had to convince clients to respect her, whereas he had an “invisible advantage” as a man. The woman also wrote her own account of the experiment and described sexism that many women face in the workplace.

While this is only one account, and by no means a scientific study, it is an interesting reminder to be conscious of gender bias and other biases in the workplace. Other Twitter users chimed in agreeing with this experience, and adding their own experiences where they had been concerned about how others would perceive them because of their name. For example, some Twitter users described concerns with how employers would perceive their names on their resumes. Some wondered if they should change their names to have a greater likelihood of success in obtaining employment because of unconscious biases.

Unconscious bias is a huge issue in the workplace and can affect who is hired, promoted, and valued at work. Discussing issues like biases can help bring the issue to light and create a company culture that acknowledges the problem and improves decision-making.

NASCAR’s racing to defend race discrimination lawsuit—is your company ready?

September 26, 2016 0 COMMENTS

Earlier this week, news broke that NASCAR is being sued for alleged racial discrimination. NASCAR insists the case has no merit, but only time will tell the outcome. When the rubber meets the road, will your business be ready to defend against a race discrimination lawsuit? Fortunately, there are steps every business can take to protect itself.  Fans Fly NASCAR Flags While Camping Outside Race Track

Policies and Training

Before an employee gets the green flag to file a race discrimination lawsuit, he or she must go through an administrative process with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or its counterpart on the state level by filing a charge of discrimination. As part of its investigation, the first thing the agency will ask the employer to provide is a copy of its employment policies and procedures. To avoid crashing into the wall on your first lap, your best defense against discrimination claims is to implement a strong EEO policy. You must also train your crew chiefs and pit crew on the policy’s contents, holding them accountable for violations, and keep up the pace with current law by regularly reviewing and updating your policies.

In addition to a general EEO policy that prohibits discrimination, your company should adopt a separate, more involved anti-harassment policy. According to the EEOC, the policy should include:

• A clear explanation of prohibited conduct, including examples;
• Clear assurance that employees who make complaints or provide information related to complaints will be protected against retaliation;
• A clearly described complaint process that provides multiple, accessible avenues of complaint;
• Assurance that the employer will protect the confidentiality of harassment complaints to the extent possible;
• A complaint process that provides a prompt, thorough, and impartial investigation; and
• Assurance that the employer will take immediate and appropriate corrective action when it determines that harassment has occurred.

Measuring Job Performance

Of course, if you want to kick your defense of an employment discrimination lawsuit into high gear and stay on track, thorough documentation is essential. Often, one of the best ways employers can throw a wrench into allegations of racial bias is to evaluate employees’ job performance on a regular basis. In doing so, employers should make sure that performance appraisals are accurate and consistent (i.e., that other employees with comparable job performances receive comparable ratings, and that appraisals are neither artificially low nor artificially high due to the supervisor’s bias). Whenever possible, employers should steer clear of subjective employment decisions based on managers’ personal stereotypes or hidden biases and rely instead on the use of neutral and objective criteria to evaluate job performance.

Hiring and Promotion

To gain traction and prevent allegations of race discrimination from spinning out of control, employers should be proactive and keep EEO principles in mind when recruiting, hiring, and promoting employees. That means adopting practices designed to widen and diversify the pool of job candidates, including openings in upper level management.

In recent years, the EEOC’s enforcement efforts have gone into overdrive, targeting overly broad hiring criteria and the use of criminal background checks that disproportionately disadvantage certain minority or racial groups. To keep running on all cylinders, you should ensure your company’s hiring standards are valid predictors of successful job performance and justified by business necessity. For example, if educational requirements disproportionately exclude certain minority applicants, they may be illegal unless they are considered important for job performance or business needs.  Sure, your driver may need a valid license and substantial racing experience to pre-qualify for a race, but does that member of your pit crew who changes tires really need a college degree in mechanical engineering?

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your business may be the target of a racial discrimination lawsuit. But, hopefully, if you follow these steps, you’ll soon be racing toward the checkered flag and cruising down victory lane.

Chris Rock’s #OscarsSoWhite monologue: Don’t try this at work

February 29, 2016 0 COMMENTS

The glitz, glamour, and celebratory nature of last night’s Academy Awards were dimmed by the ongoing controversy about the total lack of racial diversity among Oscar contenders for the last two years. In response, Chris Rock delivered a scathing monologue criticizing the Gold OscarAcademy and its members, the large majority of whom are white and male. As the audience laughed and squirmed in their seats, Rock repeatedly hammered the Hollywood establishment, using humor as a platform to express the collective outrage of the #OscarsSoWhite protest movement.

Of course, exploiting sensitive subjects like race, religion, gender, and age are all in a day’s work for professional comedians like Rock. They enjoy the unfettered privilege of offending the hell out of absolutely everyone so long as it gets a laugh. For the rest of us, however, such divisive humor (even when it is targeted at white males) has no place at work and should be avoided at all costs.

In its “Best Practices and Tips to Employees” for preventing discrimination in the workplace, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission advises employees to steer clear of race-based or culturally offensive humor or pranks. Employers should likewise train their employees (especially managers and supervisors) to leave their stand-up routines at home. Discrimination is no laughing matter, and humor is notoriously subjective. Even well-meaning comments meant to be supportive of a particular racial group or demographic may be interpreted as stereotypical or discriminatory by someone else, so it is wise to eschew such potentially explosive discussions altogether.

Although training your employees on what type of workplace conduct is off-limits is a great first step in preventing discrimination claims, even the most conscientious employer cannot completely prevent employees from discussing controversial topics around the water cooler. So if you observe such chatter taking place, or if someone complains, be pro-active and address the situation head-on to prevent a recurrence. In addition, make sure every employee at your business understands the consequences for initiating, participating in, or condoning discriminatory behavior or harassment. Lastly, pass along this tip from the EEOC: “When in doubt, leave it outside the workplace.”

 

What #OscarsSoWhite teaches us about disparate impact

January 25, 2016 0 COMMENTS

I have to admit that I’m just not a big fan of awards shows, and that includes the Academy Awards. Don’t get me wrong, I love movies. But I find awards shows dull and way, way too long. If something extremely funny happens, or someone makes an incredibly touching or socially impactful speech, I can frankly watch it the next morning on the Internet.  OscarSoWhite

Yet, despite my lack of interest in awards shows, it’s hard to ignore the controversy surrounding the most recent Academy Award nominations announced a couple weeks ago. For the second year in a row, all 20 contenders in the acting categories are Caucasian. Last year, this resulted in the trending hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, which not surprisingly has been resurrected again this year. There was of course immediate backlash to the nominations. Numerous individualsboth white and of colordecried the lack of diversity in not only the nominations, but in the industry itself. Certain celebrities made public their intention to boycott the awards. It has become somewhat of a social media frenzy as everyone has chimed in with their opinion.

Some corners place the blame squarely on the Academy, for its own lack of diversity in its membership, and therefore the lack of nominations for people of color. Others place the blame on the industry itself, and that the lack of diversity at the top of studios and other positions of power results in a dearth of movies with diverse casts and diverse issues being produced.  Most believe it’s a combination of the two as well as other preconceived notions and stereotypes about what the general public will pay to see.

Not being a Hollywood insider myself, I can’t definitively provide an answer as to the root of the issue. But I can certainly understand the concept of stereotypes and preconceived notions affecting a studio’s judgment as to who should play a certain role. As an Asian-American, I’ve unfortunately become accustomed to the fact that when I see an Asian actor prominently featured in a domestically produced film, he or she will most likely be good at martial arts, or be some villain involved in an dangerous Asian gang, or both if possible. Otherwise, it will be a minor role as an asexual academic or scientist. That’s why it’s refreshing for someone like me to watch a character like Glenn from The Walking Dead.

As in the comics the show is based on, Glenn is Asian and sort of just a normal guy, which I can relate to. Specifically, Glenn is Korean (as am I), he doesn’t know martial arts (I don’t either), he seems smart but was  just a regular Joe delivering pizzas before the zombie apocalypse (I love pizza), he’s got a wife/fiancé [he proposed but the show hasn’t shown any wedding] and they’re having a kid together (I have a wife and kids), and he’s a lead role in one of the most watched shows on TV (I dream about being this sometimes). The fact that the comics, and then the show, recognized that this prominent character could be portrayed by someone Asian, despite the fact that the character wasn’t written with stereotypical Asian characteristics, is rather refreshing to someone like me. So I can understand the frustration that other minorities have regarding the lack of diversity in movies today.

In response to the criticism, the Academy announced it would be taking additional and affirmative measures to increase the diversity in its membership. President of the Academy Cheryl Isaacs, who is African-American, announced a variety of new measures that they anticipate will double the number of women and diverse members of the Academy by 2020. President Isaacs stated in her announcement that “the Academy is going to lead and not wait for the industry to catch up.”

These are words that every employer should keep in mind. In other words, be proactive. Anyone who is reading this can agreewhether or not you believe there were illicit motivations that resulted in the nominations, there is no dispute that 40 acting nominations over two years to all Caucasian individuals is going to cause some questions about whether diversity is being represented.

For employers, this is known as disparate impact. Employers can be liable for discrimination against employees on theories of disparate impact or disparate treatment. We all know what disparate treatment is– the intentional, or proven intentional, discriminatory treatment of an employee. Disparate impact, on the other hand, refers to policies, practices, rules, or other systems that appear to be neutral but result in a disproportionate impact on protected groups. Simply put, disparate impact is a way to demonstrate employment discrimination based on the impact of an employment policy or practice rather than the intent behind it.

If the Academy were an employer and the actors in every film produced were its employees, there would be a sufficient basis to contend that the nomination process, policy, and procedure had a disproportionate impact on protected groups, evidenced by the fact that all 40 positions were filled by Caucasian employees. This isn’t to say that the Academy would be automatically liable, but this fact would be enough to bring such a claim, thereby requiring investigation and discovery into all aspects of the process, an expensive litigation to defend even if ultimately successful.

As a result, employers should not only regularly review their policies and procedures but also conduct an analysis as to whether there are any disparate impacts in their workforce, whether it be hiring, termination, promotion, pay rates, or any other aspect of an employee’s employment. Obviously, the size of the employer’s operation will dictate how often, or how widespread, such an analysis needs to be. By acting proactively, the employer can determine whether there are any flaws in their own procedures and, if there are issues, make the appropriate changes before any significant problems arise.