Discrimination. It’s a funny word. If someone says ‘you have very discriminating tastes’, it’s a compliment. A bit posh even. But if someone says ‘you discriminate’, it’s like they’ve just pointed out you’ve stepped in dog poo, or worse. In fact, it is worse. It’s like they’ve said you’ve deliberately chosen to step in it because you prefer it. However, this is one of the things we know about discrimination that most people don’t know –
1. Every human has biases and discriminates.
Biases are our brain’s way of making fast decisions. Every day we are faced with thousands of choices. What to wear, what to eat, which way to get to work, how to react to someone. Even something as simple as getting your morning coffee is not as simple as it sounds. Which coffee shop, what size, what type of coffee, what type of milk, decaf or full strength, any add-ins, what time. It would be overwhelming if our brain didn’t take decision-making shortcuts. Biases and discrimination don’t just refer to our interactions with people. We are biased to prefer things that are closer in time and space for example, rather than things that are far away. What this translates into though is that we typically prefer people who are physically closer to us, which usually means people that look like us, hold similar views to us, and so on. Which leads to the second thing we know about discrimination –
2. Even when we think we are making employment decisions based on objective criteria like merit and cultural fit, we are discriminating against certain groups of people
Cultural fit is simply an acceptable way of saying ‘people who are like us’ and gives hiring managers a way to find reasons not to hire someone based on assumptions and stereotypes. In 2010 the Australian National University sent out 4,000 fake job applications that were identical in all respects except for the name. What they found showed Australian hiring managers discriminate – a lot. To get the same number of interviews as an applicant with an Anglo-Saxon name, ANU found:
- Chinese applicants needed to submit 68% more applications;
- Middle Eastern applicants needed to submit 64% more applications;
- Indigenous applicants needed to submit 35% more applications.
As a country, we are missing out on extraordinary talent, simply because we are discriminating against people who don’t appear to fit the Anglo-Saxon mould. Which brings us to our final thing you may not know about discrimination –
3. Discrimination does real damage to individuals
Using functional MRIs, researchers have found that being put down, ridiculed, excluded, or socially isolated causes our brain to react the same way as if we are experiencing physical pain. Even worse, the physical health impacts are significant with negative changes in the cardiovascular, neuroendocrine, and immune systems significantly increasing the risk of issues such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.
Embracing the cultural, neuro, physical and gender diversity that makes up the kaleidoscope of Australian society will make our workplaces richer, stronger and more interesting places to work. Start by recruiting for ‘cultural add’, not ‘cultural fit’!
Written by Lisa Stockwell
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