Home Leadership We Should Check Our Biases and Assumptions before Making Decisions
We Should Check Our Biases and Assumptions before Making Decisions

We Should Check Our Biases and Assumptions before Making Decisions

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By Dr. Marie Gould Harper
Program Director, Management at American Public University

According to the Neuroleadership Institute, despite decades of effort and significant investment to reduce bias in organizational settings, biases still persist. Individuals will often climb a “ladder of inference.” That is the common thinking process we go through, usually without realizing it, to get from a fact or incident to a decision or action. In other words, we make a decision by reviewing the facts and interpreting the information based on our perceptions of what is occurring.

A recent example involved a LinkedIn discussion under the title, “JPMorgan hiring fewer black workers.” The discussion centered on how the banking industry has seen a decline in the number of black employees and how it planned to initiate efforts to turn that statistic around.

Many of the individuals who commented made some assumptions, such as (1) the article implied giving special treatment to a group of people and (2) future action of the banks would include hiring unqualified individuals.

Could it be that some of the respondents just read the heading and made comments based on their past perceptions without understanding what the heading actually meant? The title mentioned “hiring,” but the brief discussion was about the banking industry’s “retention” over a specific period.

There is still a faction of individuals who hear “quotas” when someone says “diversity.” They also assume that “efforts to increase” equates to “mandatory hiring” and that the individuals hired will be unqualified. Why is that? It is possible that they grew up during the era of affirmative action or came from a background that resents any initiative to level the playing field.

When I read the discussion as well as the Bloomberg article that called attention to the hiring issue, my initial thoughts were:

  • The bank is indicating how it plans to implement initiatives to increase the number of black employees.
  • The industry recognizes that the number of black employees has been declining over the years and has analyzed whether the decline is more prevalent in specific job categories.
  • The topic is of concern because some corporate boards and executives are seeking a more inclusive workforce that is representative of their customer base.

JPMorgan Chase Should Focus on Retention and Recruiting Initiatives

I think JPMorgan Chase should focus on retention initiatives as well as on recruiting efforts. Otherwise, the bank will simply continue to hire replacements for employees who leave.

One such effort would be to determine why are they leaving? I know some former employees of the bank because I was once an employee of the bank early in my career. Therefore, I know that some of the issues JPMorgan Chase faces are (1) low salaries, a (2) toxic culture and silos in some of its lines of businesses and (3) perceived organizational injustices (i.e. favoritism and nepotism).

I have heard the same concerns expressed by other groups within the organization. However, I think the statistics for specific minority groups are due to ratios: You think that the issue is more blatant when your numbers are low to start with and you lose ground. If you excluded the race factor, would you still be concerned if the outcome were the same? Would you stay at a company or look for another job?

I wrote this article because the topic generated these types of responses. I think there is a trend in this type of reaction coming so quickly on the heels of the Starbucks’ situation.

It’s the same mindset. Some readers felt that the Starbucks manager had treated the two black men awaiting their friend without purchasing anything differently than other patrons in the store. The manager ignored the fact there were other customers doing the same thing, but she did not address them. If loitering was the issue, shouldn’t all of the violators have been asked to leave? Why was the focus only on those two gentlemen?

I Am Still a Loyal Starbucks’ Customer

I am still a loyal customer of Starbucks because I believe the company has attempted to address an internal issue and I am “addicted” to the chai tea latte! What has changed is my patronage to some other organizations.

As the situation unfolded, I noticed some other, mostly small businesses now have large signs about the use of their restrooms being reserved for customers only. They reacted to their perception of what the Starbuck situation was, not the reality of the situation. As I have said before, “for every action, there is a reaction.”

My reaction to their reaction is to no longer patronize those establishments. It’s not a boycott. Instead, it is a refusal to be a patron of businesses that react to a situation based on what I perceive to be the wrong focus.

That’s what I think businesses such as JPMorganChase are attempting to address – perceptions and the consumer choices of their customer base. I am not saying I am right, I am just presenting one view of what the reality of the situation may be.

About the Author

Dr. Marie Gould Harper is the Program Director of Management at American Public University. She holds an undergraduate degree in psychology from Wellesley College, a master’s degree in instructional systems from Pennsylvania State University and a doctorate in business from Capella University. She is a progressive coach, facilitator, writer, strategist and human resources/organizational development professional with more than 30 years of leadership, project management, and administrative experience. Dr. Gould Harper has worked in both corporate and academic environments.

Dr. Gould Harper is an innovative thinker and influential leader, manifesting people skills, a methodical approach to problems, organizational vision and ability to inspire followers. She is committed to continuous improvement in organizational effectiveness and human capital development, customer service and the development of future leaders.



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