In a court of law, defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Likewise, in the workplace, white men are presumed competent until proven otherwise. Women and people of color, however, don’t get the luxury of such a presumption. Instead, they are often assumed to be less competent than their white, male peers, and thus, have to work harder to prove their abilities.
I recently read through a report called, “You Can’t Change What You Can’t See: Interrupting Bias in the Legal Profession.” Though the report focuses on the legal field specifically, the findings are applicable in a variety of contexts. One form of bias that was found among survey participants was “Prove it again” bias. Research studies on this topic show that women and people of color (and women of color, especially) often need to provide more evidence of competence than white men to be seen as equally competent. The same is true of people with disabilities and people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Why does this happen?
Mostly because we have been conditioned to conjure up images of white men when we think about competence and leadership. For example, if I asked you to picture an attorney, a chef, a pilot, a CEO or an accountant, you will mostly likely think of a white man. So, when we encounter people in these roles who don’t fit this image, we tend to be more skeptical and require more proof that they are as capable as the white man we’ve imagined in our heads.
In one blind resume study, hiring partners were given two identical resumes, one with the name Jamal (African-American sounding name) and one with the name Greg (white sounding name). Jamal needed 8 additional years of experience to get the same number of callbacks as Greg.
Women and people of color report that, as a result of this prove it again bias, they are held to higher standards at work and have their ideas misappropriated, or sometimes, not valued and outright dismissed. Needless to say, this can cause a serious morale problem. So what can we do about it?
Companies can begin to break this cycle by getting serious about interrupting bias. They can appoint diversity and inclusion officers or train official bias interrupters to oversee and review hiring processes, performance evaluations, and other workplace processes to be on the look out for patterns related to gender, race, ethnicity, etc. They should track these diversity metrics, review them regularly, and hold leaders accountable for the results. If companies can do this, they are sure to be rewarded with all of the benefits of a strong, engaged, diverse workforce that will be ready to tackle the challenges of the tomorrow.
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