Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Year Without Bias

A friend recently referred to a mutual acquaintance as “that crazy cat lady.” Being a crazy dog lady myself (we only have one at the moment, but I aspire to a small pack, to take care of the as-yet-fictional farm I also aspire to), I was not as offended as I should have been.

And that got me thinking.

There are those who harbor a bias against people who have a houseful of cats. And people who have cat-sized dogs that wear sweaters. And people who wear tweed jackets with elbow-patches, or who ride unicycles downtown, or who sport a PhD but drive a Tri-Met bus.

These are the same folks—including friends, family, and clients—who are completely on board with the idea that people should not be judged by the color of their skin, their age, their accent, their disabilities, etc.

But do we harbor less obvious biases that are or can be just as insidious?


1. Do you assume (without realizing it) that older employees won’t be able to pick up on new technology?

2. Do you expect younger employees to be impatient, job-hopping, and lacking in company loyalty?

3. Do you hold off on promoting married women in their twenties and thirties, subconsciously expecting them to become less reliable when they start a family?

4. (Here’s a terrible bias I’ve observed, that many don’t even realize they’re acting on): Do you have lower standards for your employees for whom English is a second language, assuming that because they don’t speak English well they don’t understand complex concepts?

Even stereotypes that seem harmless can be problematic, so here’s my advice for the new year: Review your hiring and promotional decisions in the last few years with an objective eye. Do you see a pattern of rejecting a certain class of people? Even if that class of people is not protected by law, you may be cheating yourself of valuable talent by acting on assumptions and biases.

And just in case you’re wondering: No, redheads do not have fiery temperaments! (You can check out the grievously insulting prejudices against us through the ages at