Answering for Bias in the Workplace: Research on Ethnicity and Perceptions of Contribution Reveal Some Key Requirements for Overcoming Bias

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Demographic variables of race and ethnicity affect perceptions of contribution and inherent value of direct reports or individual contributors by managers in the workplace, according to a report by global talent research firm Novations Group.

In the study "Reducing the Effects of Bias in the Workplace," participating managers were asked to rank their direct reports in terms of contribution and performance based on the Four Stages of Contribution Model: stage

1--contributing dependently, stage

2--contributing independently, stage

3--contributing through others, and stage 4--contributing strategically. Direct reports were also asked to complete the same survey, providing their own assessment of their contribution. That's where the disconnect occurred.

Managers' perceptions of their direct reports were higher in stage 1, while direct reports generally rated themselves as contributing more in stages 2 and 3. The largest discrepancy in manager and direct report self ratings was for Asian employees, who saw their contribution much more in stage 2 (11.3 percent difference) and stage 3 (19.1 percent difference) than did their managers.

The study also found that managers rate the contributions of African American professionals at 42.5 percent in stage 1, while African Americans see their contributions in stage 2 (46.2 percent). These differences are significant and can affect how managers actually position an African American employee or direct report for promotion, the study suggests. This will further impact or limit their future level of influential contribution within the organization.

"Managers need to recognize the importance of proactively reaching out to their diverse team members," says Paul Terry, co-author of the report. "Managers cannot assume that everyone 'gets the message' in the same way and the same channels. …