Do you think you are open-minded, unbiased, and free of racism? Let me challenge you. It is human nature to categorize people.
This person is like me; that person is different from me. Committed to the job, not committed. High potential, less potential. Smart, not smart. Fit, not in shape. Beautiful, plain, ugly. Cultured, not cultured. Groomed well, not so well.
From a top school, from a lesser school. Rich, middle class, poor. Young, old. Childish, mature. Black, Hispanic, Native American, Asian, Caucasian, Pacific Islander, Middle Eastern, mixed, can’t tell. The list of distinctions is infinite.
How do our classifications play out in the workplace?
Here are a few examples:
- She’s available for travel. Give the project to her.
- We need a “J” for this role. I will never hire a “P” again.
- He’s in accounting. I wouldn’t put anyone from that department in a trade show booth.
- She’s too young for this opportunity. Give it to someone more seasoned.
- He’s black. I think he’ll do better in the Southside sales territory than he will up here where the clients are mostly white.
- She just had a baby. I don’t think she’s the right person for a big project like this.
- This account needs to be handled by someone in the office, not a telecommuter.
In the example above, the speaker assumes certain differences between in-office and remote workers—stereotypes. Then these perceived differences influence which employee is considered for the account.
An About.com article on social psychology says we have:
“A collection of beliefs and assumptions about how certain traits are linked to other characteristics and behaviors. For example, if you learn that a new co-worker is very happy, you might immediately assume that she is also friendly, kind, and generous. These assumptions help people make judgments quickly, but they can also contribute to stereotyping and errors.”
Next time you are making a people management decision, stop and take a critical look at how biases may be informing your choices.
What errors are you making? How are you limiting yourself, your company, and your employees with your categorizations? Have you denied an opportunity to a person because of color, parenting status, appearance, educational background or other factors, due to unconscious assumptions about capability, availability, or commitment?