Study Assesses Useful Strategies for Mitigating Workplace Bias and Discrimination

Summary of:

Holmes IV, O., Lopiano, G., and Hall, E., (2019). A review of compensatory strategies to mitigate bias. Personal Assessment and Decisions. 23-34.

Background & Theory:

Employee discrimination is a stubborn and destructive issue that many organizations deal with on a daily basis. Although overt discrimination has declined in recent years, variations of interpersonal discrimination have proved to be persistent. Although the responsibility of eliminating discrimination should not fall on the shoulders of its victims, those who are victimized from discrimination and bias can use this study to learn strategies that mitigate discriminatory action.

Question(s):

Research was collected and analyzed to answer the following questions:

  1. In what ways can the strategies of humor, avoidance, enhancement, affiliation, and social category label switching affect workplace bias and discrimination?
  2. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each of these strategies?

Methods:

The methodology of this study is solely the consolidation of past research on the effects of humor, avoidance, enhancement, affiliation, and social category label switching as compensatory strategies to fight workplace discrimination and bias.

Results:

After analyzing past research studies, it was found that humor, avoidance, enhancement, affiliation, and social category label switching all have the potential to reduce the perception of workplace bias and discrimination. Using humor is a helpful strategy in disrupting tense and awkward identity-based situations without risking the relationship between the proponent of the bias and the victim. However, using humor to diffuse these situations is risky because using it in the wrong way can lead to more harm than good.

Avoidance can be a helpful strategy because it allows for the facilitation of acceptance and relationship-building between the two parties. On the other hand, avoiding discrimination can foster resentment and can make the victim of discrimination feel that their acceptance by others is only superficial.

Enhancement, which is a strategy that provides others with a more comprehensive view of the stereotypes they promote, can be positive by increasing the individual’s authenticity and pride in identity. Additionally, others feel closer to individuals who disclose information about their “true” selves. However, enhancement can lead others to privately hold onto negative thoughts and feel frustrated in their inability to bring the issues up.

Affiliation, which is a strategy where a discriminated individual relates to others via their commonalities, is helpful because it focuses on building relationships, which should help discriminated individuals feel more at ease in their workplace. However, the use of affiliation as a strategy can lead to perceptions of assimilation, leading to feelings of inauthenticity.

Finally, social category label switching is an act whereby a discriminated individual intentionally uses a more societally deemed “positive” label for themselves (i.e. “overweight” instead of “fat”) in order to lessen discrimination. This can be helpful to reduce bias and discrimination due to its ability to often go undetected as a strategy. However, the need for the individual to constantly be aware of using the correct label can lead to increased stress.

What We Can Learn:

Looking over this study, we can take away these key insights:

  • Although it is not the responsibility of the victims of workplace bias and discrimination to fix these issues, when considering the negative impact of discrimination on these individuals, it may be helpful to keep in mind strategies that can mitigate these destructive behaviors. This being said, humor, avoidance, enhancement, affiliation, and social category label switching have been proven to lessen the perception of workplace bias and discrimination on some level.

Final Takeaways

For Consultants: Recognizing the enormous toll discrimination can take on a workplace environment through behaviors like micro-aggressions, equipping employees with compensatory strategies to mitigate micro-level discriminatory acts may be a helpful topic for consultants to cover.

For Everyone: If you are being discriminated against in the workplace and see no means to an end, using a mixture of these strategies could be helpful to peacefully address the discrimination and keep yourself in a positive state.

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