Subtle Bias in the workplace

Subtle Bias
Subtle Bias

Subtle Bias in the workplace

Workplace bias, from employers and fellow employees targeted against black and female employees and co-workers is an ongoing problem despite efforts to bring equality in the work environment. This is an ongoing problem particularly in post-independent South Africa.


This can come in the form of managers giving poor scores in performance reviews, setting KPIs that are almost impossible to fulfil, paying lesser bonuses to black or women employees. In day to day activities, this can take the form of a manager ignoring the contributions of a black employee in a meeting or allowing a white employee to leave the office early but questioning a black employee when he/she does the same.


In some companies, blacks and women are not informed of the opportunities available to them – such as performance bonuses or overseas training opportunities.


Some might argue that the general evolution of discrimination from obvious to subtle may be evidence of social progress. Unfortunately, however, recent research done by experts at the Harvard Business School shows that the new kinds of bias can be even worse than the older kinds such as racism and sexism – which were often easily noticeable and obvious.


Subtle bias may not always be so obvious but its effects are quite offensive, derogatory and discriminatory and deserve vigorous scrutiny.


In extreme cases, these biases can reduce productivity and lower a person’s self-esteem and confidence to the point of depression.

Follow the procedures below to address subtle biases:

1. Know your company’s procedures and protocols when it comes to dealing with abusive co-workers

In the event that the offender is a co-worker or a manager, you need to formally lodge a complaint with your Human Resources Department. If you belong to a UNION, you can also approach them for advice on your matter.

Find out what your options are within your company when it comes to reporting specific incidents of discrimination and abuse.

Often times, there are protocols that must be followed, especially if the perpetrator is a superior or in senior management.

Companies need to implement stricter zero tolerance policies


2. Ignore and walk away

Although this may seem like you are letting the offender get away with their antics, it actually allows you to focus less on the immaturity and insecurity of the other person. By not feeding into their negativity, you eliminate any action that could be used against you if the other person provokes you into a verbal skirmish.


3. Know your legal rights

You need to know your rights as an employee and often yur country’s Department of Labour has several Acts that address various forms of discrimination and abuse in the workplace.


The country’s constitutional laws are also designed to protect against discrimination and violation of human rights and depending on the nature of the subtle biases you experience, you may use this as a last resort especially if the incident is of a sexual or racial nature. In cases, where negative rumours and comments have cost you a promotion or had an adverse effect on your career and reputation in the workplace, defamation and slander charges may be applicable. To file this kind of a lawsuit, you will need to have substantial and verifiable proof, of both the actions, comments and direct impact of the offender on your work situation.


4. Know your worth

Often subtle biases in the workplace involve the one person making the other person feel inadequate, inferior and as if they cannot perform their job or have no worth within the company. Perpetrators often make their berating comments seems as truth, when in actual fact they have no merit whatsoever. You need to know what value you’re bringing into the business. Know your strengths and weaknesses. If you feel you are being unduly harassed or someone is trying to intimidate you for any reason, speak to a superior or your human resources business partner to find out what options are available to address this.


5. Confront your bully

In some circumstances, the only way to put a stop to this is to confront the person. If you can tactfully confront the instigator, they may opt to leave you alone if they are made to understand you are not going to tolerate their attitude and. If you decide to confront the perpetrator, it is crucial that there be a witness present and you have to stay calm and not allow yourself to engage in any type of physical or violent manner. If you feel that you may not be able to calmly handle the situation, approach one of the managers or human resources personnel to address them.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here