How Much Do We Tolerate Discrimination? New Study Provides Eye-Opening Insights
April 16, 2008
Posted by Shanti Atkins
No two people are alike – and that holds true for our prejudices. But there are some interesting trends that have found certain prejudices expressed more clearly among defined gender and ethnic groups.
Several studies have found that men are more tolerant of discrimination than women, but a study released this month goes one step further to find that both genders tend to more readily accept prejudice against some immigrants and Arab-Americans.
The study also found that:
- Men and women differed the least in regard to discriminating against Arab-American airplane passengers, and most in regard to African-American motorists.
- The highest percentage of respondents accepted discrimination against “poorly educated immigrants,” followed second by acceptance of discrimination against Arab-Americans.
- Respondents were least likely to accept discrimination against the genetically disadvantaged, or people who are genetically at high risk for diseases that require expensive medical care.
- Men were 19.6 percent more likely than women to tolerate discrimination against obese people and 17.4 percent more likely to accept racial profiling.
The results, just released this month, come from surveys of more than 3,300 people conducted in 2002 by University of Southern California researchers.
It appears as though implicit bias (often subconscious) is driving the bulk of the problem. Edward J. McCaffery, a USC law professor, who co-authored the study, concludes that an individual who sees nothing wrong with certain kinds of biases will often find others objectionable.
“Many political struggles of our time, in the United States as elsewhere, amount to clashes over the appropriate boundary between permissible and impermissible forms of discrimination,” McCaffery said. “As a matter of practice, people morally opposed to discriminatory policies based on reviled forms of prejudice do not insist on equal treatment for everyone, in every context.”
So if you’re an employer trying to create a safe and welcoming workplace for all your employees (or at a minimum trying to avoid crippling discrimination lawsuits), what can you do to address this inevitable (and ugly) aspect of human behavior?
Education is the heart of the solution. Discrimination and harassment prevention training, including sexual harassment training, is an absolute must for all of your employees. How will they know what you expect of them, and what behavior is inappropriate, if you don’t tell them – especially if they don’t even realize they hold certain biases? And while the most deeply held prejudices won’t be changed by even the best training programs, you can at least send a clear message that certain behaviors and opinions will not be tolerated in the workplace, and that there will be serious consequences for violating the anti-discrimination policy.
As importantly, several laws and regulatory requirements require you to provide discrimination and harassment training. So beyond doing the right thing, and creating a culture of inclusion, basic compliance standards require you to take action.
Finally, make sure education happens at all levels of the organization, including senior executives. Don’t forget your senior execs – they need compliance training too. Just because someone holds a high-level position in an organization doesn’t mean that s/he doesn’t have prejudices and won’t engage in discriminatory behavior. Many of the most notorious and costly lawsuits are the result of senior execs misbehaving.
Implicit bias is both fascinating and insidious. We all have biases, whether we choose to admit it or not.
Some of the most ground breaking work in this area has been done by “Project Implicit” – a collaborative effort among researchers at Harvard University, the University of Virginia and the University of Washington. Studies conducted by Project Implicit examine thoughts and feelings that exist either outside of conscious awareness or outside of conscious control. The primary goals of Project Implicit are to provide a safe, secure, and well-designed virtual environment to investigate psychological issues and, at the same time, provide visitors and participants with an experience that is both educational and engaging. Interested in seeing what your own implicit biases may be? Check out the virtual tests for an eye-opening experience.