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Professionalism and Bias at Work: How to Challenge Bias When You See It

I had the great honor to talk with Zytlaly Magaña and Alexandra (Alex) Ochoa, co-founders of Latinos in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and fellow I/O psychologists.

We discussed how “professionalism” in the workplace can sometimes result in bias against marginalized groups. Watch the episode below to hear more about how bias can be pervasive when we talk about professionalism:

Below are some of the key themes of our episode:

1. Professionalism standards are often laced with bias.

Many of the ideas we have about what it means to be “professional” are often tied up with long-standing biases against those that have been historically marginalized. These standards continue today and are only recently being challenged in court and via legislation. For example, the Crown Act, which protects Black individuals’ right to wear their natural hair at work without fear of discrimination, was only passed by Congress in 2022.

2. Bias has harmful effects.

Alex told a powerful story of how she experienced bias at a recent professional conference. She describes feelings of exclusion and a desire to not participate in conference events for fear of a similar instance happening again. We see these same themes emerge in the research, with bias being linked to more turnover and less job satisfaction. These acts of exclusion minimize people to some aspect of their identity, depriving them of the right to be their own unique person.

3. Incidents of bias can be an opportunity for education.

We also discussed how these incidents, though painful, can also be powerful opportunities to educate others. A simple call-out such as “Would you ask me that question if I was White?” or “Would you ask me that question if I was a man?” can force individuals to confront their bias in the moment. Sometimes, however, it can be hard to say something in the moment when a microaggression happens. These opportunities for education and conversation can come later, after you’ve had time to reflect on what happened.

What can you do today?
  1. Reflect on yourself and your assumptions

    1. Consider how your bias is impacting how you view others, especially as it relates to professionalism. Before you ask somebody something, pause to consider whether you would ask that same question to someone with a majority identity.

  2. Leverage your privilege to challenge others to understand their bias

    1. When you see others committing microaggressions, if you have the privilege in that setting, consider challenging that person. Ask them to consider what they just said and whether it may have come from a place of bias.

  3. Challenge larger societal assumptions about professionalism

    1. If you have professionalism guidelines for your organization, take the time to critically assess them. Are there aspects that may be affected by bias? For example, do you have a gendered dress code? Do you have rules about how employees are allowed to wear their hair? These rules, though they may seem minor, can have detrimental effects on feelings of inclusion in your organization.

Looking to get started on eliminating bias and elevating belonging in your organization? Contact Mattingly Solutions today to learn how we can partner to advance your DEI goals. Together.


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