Biased Decision Making

Posted by on Jan 23, 2014 in Blog Posts | Comments Off on Biased Decision Making

We are barraged with information and experiences.  In order to function efficiently, our brains develop mental shortcuts; that is, ways to categorize our experiences and the information we cultivate.  Over time, we develop generalized ways of thinking.  Some times we associate negative traits were certain groups of people and positive traits with other groups.  When we make these knee-jerk associational assumptions and generalizations, we are stereotyping.  When we make employment decisions based on stereotype, we are discriminating.  When we discriminate against someone who is in a protected category, we are breaking the law.

Biased decision-making is illegal when it is predicated on classifications protected by law.  Federal law protects people from adverse employment decisions that are motivated by a person’s gender, race, color, national origin, religion, age, or disability.  In addition to protecting people who fall within these classifications, Minnesota State law protects people from biased decision-making based on sexual orientation.

For example:

A woman starts a family.  Her boss believes that once women have children they are no longer dedicated to their work.  He notices that she is out of the office a couple of afternoons, and observes her on two occasions to arrive at the office later than her male colleagues.  A few weeks later he notices that she left the office at 4:30 whereas her male colleagues are in the office well past 6:00 p.m.  These observations reinforce his perception that now that she has a child she is no longer dedicated to her job.  He assumes, without knowing, that she is leaving work to attend to the child.

What he does not know is that she had client meetings out of the office the afternoons she was gone, and that the day she left at 4:30 was a day that began for her with a client breakfast meeting at 7:00 a.m.  Nor is he aware of all the work she performs from her laptop at home after her child is in bed.

Our example’s male counterparts put in many 10 and 12-hour work days, but so does our female example.  The problem is that her boss is focusing on her absences and making stereotypical assumptions about them.  He does not notice, or forgets, the times her male counterparts were absent from the office because those absences do not coincide with his notions about women with children.  The boss’s focus is only on her absences, not her good work.  Conversely, he focuses on her male counterparts’ good work, but not their absences.

Eventually, when it comes time to recommend one of his reports for a promotion, he recommends one of the male colleagues.  The boss believes that the male is more deserving of and better suited for the position.  Over time, the other male colleagues are similarly promoted, leaving our female frustrated and losing confidence in her abilities.  Her growing lack of confidence causes her to lose a key client.  Believing she is not suited for the work she is in, she decides to resign her position and be a stay-at-home mom for a year or so while she reassesses her career goals.  Her resignation reinforces for the boss the notion that women with children either abandon their careers or are no longer the dedicated workers they once were, and the pattern continues.