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Is subtle workplace bias really discrimination?

There are still cases of blatant workplace discrimination in the United States, even though it's illegal. It may not be quite as obvious as hanging signs on the door telling people of certain ethnic groups not to apply, but supervisors will say and do things based on their own biases.

What some legal experts note is a bit more confusing, though, is when the bias is subtle. It can be hard to tell if the supervisor is discriminating or not.

For example, a promotion may be open. Two employees apply for it. They work at the same level in the company. One is a man and the other is a woman.

The man gets the promotion. When the woman asks why she did not get it, her male boss says he did not think she was up to the challenges that the job would present.

Is that boss discriminating against the woman? Does he think she's not up for the challenges based on her education or experience, or does he simply not think any female employee would ever be able to do the job? If it's the latter, that's potential gender discrimination. If it's the former, it's just a subjective assessment of employees.

The key may be to look for a pattern of behavior, which may indicate which side the decision falls on.

No matter what, this type of subtle bias creates some complex and confusing situations in the workplace. When employees are frustrated and believe they're being discriminated against, even if it's subtle, they need to know all of the legal options that they have.

Source: Harvard Business Review, "Why Subtle Bias Is So Often Worse than Blatant Discrimination," Eden King and Kristen Jones, accessed Sep. 08, 2017

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