Simple Tips for Checking your Bias at the Door.

Is there a difference between who you are from 9 to 5 versus who you are after hours or in your private time?  I’m not just referring to how you play out the different roles in your life. I mean the person you feel you are expected to be at work versus the person you really are that only the closest people in your life truly get to see. 

From the time we begin informal and formal education, we are conditioned to display certain behaviors that encourage success and to uphold certain moral standards.

Team player who gets along well with others, communicates effectively, displays sound moral judgment, possesses the ability to stay calm in stressful situations.

These are all great traits to possess all the time, but after 5 do people still abide by these attributes? How many times have you been the very opposite of ‘staying calm in stressful situations’ when you’ve been cut off by that driver that just does not know how to merge into oncoming traffic.  Or when you should be able to ‘get along with others’ at home and all you really want to do is watch that show at that precise time no matter what everyone else wants to do. No one better not interrupt and that includes the cherished family pet. 

Going a step further, what about those knee-jerk responses one would make based on personal preference or bias?  Take an honest assessment. Do you take pause at the thought of interacting or engaging people who look differently than you or who have a different set of beliefs or lifestyle  than you?

According to bias is defined as a particular tendency, trend, inclination, feeling, or opinion, especially one that is preconceived or unreasoned; unreasonably hostile feelings or opinions about a social group; prejudice. The truth is we all have them. How could we not? We live in a wonderfully diverse, multi-cultural world and we are affected by covert and overt factors that create bias around us. Our biases stem from our families and how we are socialized, television, social media, radio, internet.  Any man-made media construct has a propensity to be influenced by society and vice versa.  Stereotypes of people of various sex, race, age, disability, color, creed, national origin or religion can fuel biases from the positive to the not so positive. Consequently we carry them in our minds constantly, even to our 9 to 5’s. With this knowledge in mind how are individuals still able to display positive behaviors and uphold moral standards at work?

The Kohlberg Theory of Moral Development (1981) gives us some insight on why people tend to give a hardy effort to displaying those positive and morally based behaviors at work.  Originally developed by the psychologist, Lawrence Kohlberg, through his study of child and adolescent development, he believed that there are six stages of moral development, three levels of moral reasoning that people develop through progressive stages. While individuals may achieve a certain level of moral development, they tend to shift around in their level of moral reasoning for various actions based upon particular situations.  One could conclude that people tend to behave positively at work due to the desire to avoid punishment, to be seen as socially acceptable or to take part in just actions.  

Let’s face it. Morally it stands to reason that keeping those biases in check at work or anytime is after all the right thing to do. At the least it ensures that you are not faced with the risk of losing your livelihood due to any biased-fueled actions. Sure no one can tell you what to believe or how to live your lives, but in order to maintain a level of culpability at our 9 to 5’s we can all keep it simple and follow just a few guidelines.

Check yourself.   Before having to make decisions that will affect others, review your personal biases. Stand firmly and ensure your decisions are based upon sound and creditable judgment and business analytics. If you don’t fully trust yourself, seek a second or third opinion. Ensure they are a trusted source who can be impartial.

Just and Fair.  Ask yourself does your reasoning present an ideal that is just and fair to the other person or people that your bias may be towards.  Consider how you would like to be treated.

Eliminate non-positive dialog.  What you may perceive as being funny or amusing, someone else may not. Even if people of a certain group give you the ‘nod of approval’ that it is ok to proceed, do not. You never know who is within earshot that may take offense.

Ask questions.  The worst thing you can do is make assumptions that further fuel stereotypes about someone’s ethnicity or beliefs. You can ask questions that are not offensive and you can lead the question with a statement such as ‘do you mind if I ask you a question about your culture’ or ‘May I ask a question about the necklace or article of clothing you are wearing’. Some people are more than happy to share their culture and experiences especially when they understand why you would like to know.

Timing.  Please be mindful of when you ask or approach someone. It may be prudent to ask when that person is alone on break or catch them a moment before or after work.

Seek knowledge.  Finally, if you are too embarrassed to approach someone, conduct research for yourself. There are literally tons of vetted resources for thousands of topics on the internet.      

What are some ways that you have made positive strides in the workplace or beyond to alter or eliminate your own personal biases?

The Art of Hiding in Plain Sight

For many years during my career, I intentionally avoided talking about my children or any of my personal life to business associates, colleagues and management. For a single, African American mother, I perceived it as the ‘kiss of death’ to my career to be open about my status. I did not want to be viewed as another statistic: single, African American, unwed mother. Worse yet, I discovered that I did these things because I did not want to be judged for what many may see as the obvious. I truly wanted to be judged for my strong work ethic and my tremendous desire to be a team player. I was covering.

According to Jennifer Brown’s book, Inclusion: Diversity, the New Workplace and the Will to Change, covering is sited as the intentional downplaying of your identity. Individuals often carry a fear of making people of other groups uncomfortable or they fear being characterized by a specific stereotype about race, gender, ethnicity, sexual identity or veteran status.  Brown gave a first-hand account of her experiences of covering the fact that she was hiding her LBGT(Q) status. She spoke of that fear of not being fully accepted and being viewed as an outsider. She expressed that she felt that revealing her status would negatively affect her career. 

From the Yoshino and Smith 2013 study, Uncovering Talent: The New Model of Inclusion, it reveals some surprising figures of those who cover and why. The survey yielded results from approximately 3,129 respondents from seven industries. It showed that 83% of LGBT individuals, 79% of Blacks, 67% of women of color, 66% of women (in general), 63% of Hispanics and 45% of straight white men participated in this behavior. Yoshino and Smith believe that people cover for four main reasons:

·       Appearance-altering ones’ physical appearance to conform to the masses.

·       Association-avoiding contact with same group members.

·       Affiliation-avoiding behaviors widely associated with one’s identity.

·       Advocacy-not standing up for your group; especially when negative situations occur.

Finally, the survey results also noted one startling concern. They found that high percentages of individuals felt that engaging in covering behavior is necessary to their overall career success. In this day and age of increasing diversity, how can individuals still feel the need to cover?  Does its presence point to a strong desire to level an uneven playing field?

Intentional or not, covering is a deeply profound topic. It is the responsibility of leaders and change agents to engage employees and ensure that our working environments promote acceptance and trust towards all people.  The less individuals display this behavior the greater the chances of achieving true inclusion and diversity of thought for effective partnerships and innovations.  

This only hits the tip of the iceberg. It is my hope that this article stirs curiosity and creates continued dialogue.


Brown, Jennifer. Inclusion: Diversity, The New Workplace & The Will To Change. Advantage Media Group. Kindle Edition.

Yoshino and Smith, Uncovering Talent: The New Model of Inclusion. Deloitte University, The Leadership Center for Inclusion, 2013.