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.