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Where Did You Start the Race?

Where did you start the race?

I have never bought into the idea that America is the land of equal opportunity. Despite this, I know that I already cashed a winning lottery ticket simply by being born here and I know there is no other country in which I would rather live.

But even from a young age, I noticed that not everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed. Think of getting a job as a race; if your opponent has a 50 foot head start, do you really have an equal chance of winning the race?

Starting 50 feet behind everyone else is what getting a job is like for many people who don’t look, dress, or talk in the ways favored in the American workforce. That describes nearly every person that walks through Daily Work’s door.

Research shows that the language, attitudes, and habits that are most favored in the workforce, and therefore hired and promoted, are those of the middle class. Susan Fiske, a Princeton University psychologist, says that prejudice in the workforce is far less overt today in the past. She says our perception is that prejudice comes from strong negative attitudes and derogatory beliefs about groups of people.

Today, however, prejudice and discrimination are often based on unconscious and subtle emotional responses that undermine workplace inclusiveness. Fiske’s research found that middle class people were perceived as “high-warmth and high competence” and were more likely to be promoted and/or mentored for advancement. The research goes on to note:

“In direct contrast, groups perceived as low-warmth, low-competence, for example in the United States groups such as homeless people and undocumented immigrants, evoke disgust and an urge to avoid them.

The ways people’s decisions can be affected by the differing emotions evoked by these two types of groups were elucidated by studies presented at the conference involving functional magnetic resonance imaging of brain activity. Lasana Harris, a researcher at New York University, described how he had presented research participants with ethical dilemmas such as a crisis decision about train routing in which the only way to save the lives of a group of people would involve killing a specific single person. When that person was described as homeless rather than middle-class, the participants were more likely to decide to take the action that would kill him.”

Wow… how incredibly sad is that? So many people get angry about or refuse to accept that our privilege (the head start any of us get from being a certain race, gender, socioeconomic class, etc.) and our bias, implicit or explicit, still play a significant role in American society.

And I get it…we all want to believe that we have what we have because we earned it through hard work and good decisions. It’s easier to ignore the needs of others if we can blame them for their lot in life and believe that they are poor or cannot get a good job because they don’t work hard or spend their money wisely.

But here’s the reality check…some people start the race with a head start and some people face more discrimination than others. At Daily Work, we strive to help level the playing field for them and for anyone else struggling with poverty or employment hardships.

We help by assisting people with tactical things like resumes and cover letters, but we also are working to level the playing field by sharing the experiences and observations we gain from helping them. That’s what this blog is all about…sharing our perspectives and ideas about how to help people and give more people in our community the chance to succeed.

One way you can help is by subscribing to our newsletter and liking or following us on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter. We encourage you to share your own views and experiences. We want to hear them.

If you’re really inspired or you prefer the personal touch, you can join us at our annual luncheon and invite some friends to join you. There’s no cost to host a table and it’s free to attend. Daily Work is a small organization and we rely on your help to share our work and mission with others so that we can continue to grow, level the playing field more effectively, and help more job seekers advance and succeed in the workforce.

Want more? Check out these articles:

http://www.forbes.com/2009/11/12/discrimination-workplace-prejudice-leadership-managing-bias.html

http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/09/what-is-privilege/

http://daily-work.org/does-implicit-bias-make-equal-opportunity-impossible/

Hoff HeadshotBy Julie Hoff, Executive Director

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