Prejudice is a great time saver. You can form opinions without having to get the facts.
In our highly polarized world this sentiment seems truer than ever. How about you? Any chance that you throw a prejudice around every now and then? Just to move things along… get to a conclusion faster… convince someone that there is no such thing as Global Warming… or that “all the signs” point to a great Quarter?
I see too much prejudice in today’s workplace. My top 3 include:
- Ageism: Chip Conley over at MarketWatch has written a timely piece on Ageism in the workplace. It’s ironic that this exists and I paraphrase Chip, because it’s something that we will all suffer from. Did you know that the median age of employees in the US is 42, yet the average age of founders of unicorns is 31?
The problem is … young leaders are being thrust into positions of power long before they are ready — often tasked with running companies or departments that are scaling quickly with little experience or guidance. As a young tech leader asked me the other day, “How can I microwave my leadership skills?” The answer: there is a generation of older workers with wisdom and experience, specialized knowledge, and unparalleled ability to teach, coach, and counsel, who could pair with these ambitious millennials to create businesses that are built to endure.
By practicing Ageism, younger generations are missing out on the accumulated wisdom, leadership and competencies of a more mature worker. Do you want to accelerate your young startup? Hire an older group of employees.
2. Contradictions? We don’t need no stinkin’ contradictions: We have unconscious biases against new information that doesn’t comport with our worldview. To enforce these biases and protect our self-worth, we can be very selective which new information we care to accept and which we quickly reject. It’s called a confirmation bias. Doesn’t this stink? Can you imagine how even more creative and productive your teams would be if they didn’t bring these unconscious biases to bear? The one way to mitigate this is with continual awareness training — we all need reminders of this behavior to lessen it.
3. Ingroup Favoritism: Wow, you’re not as popular as the kids I hang out with so you can’t hang out with me. This one really gets my goat. Not only is it foolish to reject outside opinion, which brings new perspectives but it’s downright evil, condescending and discriminatory. It’s also incredibly juvenile. It amazes me how cliquish organizations can be. Are they favoriting their team because they want to work secretively? Is it because they don’t want to share the glory with others? Or perhaps they don’t believe in collaboration — they already know everything and can’t learn from anyone else. I think, and this is all too common — they don’t want anyone to find out just how little they produce and contribute to the health of the firm.
But what about sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace?
The #MeToo movement is driving a significant workplace re-examination of these behaviors and how to mitigate if not eliminate them. But I sense angst among the professionals that are trying to deal with sexism and sexual harassment. Angst because the ability to address bias in the workplace is focused on one particularly deadly type of bias. But what’s the balance? How do they deal with this incredible injustice while trying to effect culture change across a wider spectrum of detrimental behaviors? Can you do it as part of a larger effort or is it so egregious that it must be dealt with separately? And what about the inevitable half-life of movements?
With the exception of the Alice’s Restaurant Anti-Massacreed Movement, everything loses steam eventually as we turn our limited attention spans to the next emotionally-laden issue. How do we address the next Weinstein moment when we haven’t finished dealing with the current one?
When was the last time you’ve seen confirmation bias addressed to improve team productivity, let alone more productive discourse? Are you still waiting for team leads or divisional heads to address insular departmental behavior? What’s your strategy for combating Ageism in your personal talent acquisition efforts?
Those are my questions.
Ray Kurzweil makes the argument that with both human evolution and the technical evolution that has succeeded it, with greater complexity there is a greater need and drive toward order. Show me the order that addresses the complexities of prejudice and bias in the workplace. I’m waiting.