Bias in the workplace can lead to misconduct such as bullying, intimidation, and treating people unfairly. Even if we assume that most workplace colleagues are congenial, why then does bias occur, where does it come from? In the next episode of our podcast Ethical Antidotes, we explored these questions and more with lawyer-ethicist Dr Zoe Hammatt.
Scientists have discovered that some biases are the result of the brain’s tendency to categorise, putting information into the same compartments over and over after repeated encounters. Combine this with a fast-paced environment where we don’t stop to think or “live in the moment,” there can be flash mental decision that is not properly considered and thus potentially unfair and hurtful. While this is not the only source of bias, it is a cause that is amenable to pause, reflection, and remedy.
According to Dr Hammatt, taking a self-inventory and also listening to those around us (rather than tuning them out) are good steps toward reducing bias. In the workplace, employees want to be valued and heard. If we tell employees to Speak Up as part of whistleblowing programs, for example, it is vital that management accordingly Listen Up. A half-baked whistleblowing management system is one where the communication channel is one-way and listening and meaningful corrective action are absent.
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