Asim is a manager for a hi-tech company that has been living in the USA for most of his adult life. He considers it his home – five years back his employer sponsored him for a green card, which he cherishes. He is originally from India and is a Muslim, although he does not practice all the tenets of the faith, such as praying five times a day.
“I love America and it has given me and my family many opportunities. People were so welcoming when I first came to this country, and I made wonderful friends. Maybe it’s just my perception, but at work now I feel that some colleagues are looking at me in a different way and worrying that I am a terrorist. I am afraid they look at my wife and children that way too. And I am not sure if I can even travel back to India to visit my parents and return – in the airport now I am often ‘randomly’ selected for extra questioning, and on our last trip, even my wife and children were held in a room and interrogated. It was humiliating.” – Asim
Are those Corporate Values for Real?
Many organizations are looking closely at the social and political changes occurring in the USA and Europe and considering how best to respond. Amidst the current “hot button” issues such as immigration, free speech, international treaties, and terrorism, even those who normally prefer to remain bipartisan are called upon by consumers and politicians to take sides. In recent weeks companies including Ford, Starbucks, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Tesla, and Uber have all been in the news for their stances on various issues. And in other countries (Germany, the U.K.), business leaders have also faced pressures to take a firm position. It is tempting to withdraw into a safe community of like-minded people with echo chamber social media, but on a more micro-scale, some of us face divisions among our own family members as well.
This is gut-check time for executives who have confidently touted global corporate values such as inclusion and diversity, respect for the individual, equal opportunity, and social responsibility. Globalization has turned out to be a double-edged sword, bringing tremendous opportunities for growth in new markets, cross-border efficiencies, and professional development, but also painful displacements of factories and corporate functions, affecting both blue-collar and white-collar workers. Ferocious new competitors from abroad and hard-working immigrants at home produce substantial benefits, including lower prices and innovative products; at the same time, they can drive wages down or lead to lost jobs. In some locations, anger and fear over such unsettling changes have fueled divisive social issues that also drive wedges between company employees, foster extreme behaviors, and potentially result in acts of workplace harassment, legal disputes, or even violence.
Unconscious Bias: Four Types (The CIAO Model)
1. Confirmation Bias
“We see the world as we are.” Anais Nin
Humans are creatures of habit, and much of our day is spent on autopilot, carrying out routine tasks. Our expectations are shaped by our previous life experience, and the automatic reactions we have in response to these expectations – say, that other vehicles will stop when the traffic light turns red – make it possible for us to get through each day in a way that is functional and safe. However, even when our expectations are based on insufficient information and/or faulty assumptions, the same mental process tends to run in the background, “confirming” that we have seen what we expected to see, unless it is deliberately altered.
Because Asim is from South Asia and a Muslim, if he grows a beard, for example, other employees from different backgrounds may almost imperceptibly begin to feel that he has taken on radical beliefs because he now looks a bit more like those terrorists in the news. The real explanation may be that his wife thinks he looks better in a beard, that he finds it warmer to have facial hair during a damp and gloomy Seattle winter, or that he has taken on new responsibilities at work and is cultivating his new leadership image. Unless we take the time to question our assumptions we may find ourselves avoiding Asim in the cafeteria or hesitating to endorse him when he is put up for promotion.