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Is Your Unconscious Bias Leaving Money on the Table?


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We’ve discussed in previous posts how unconscious bias can harm your talent pool when it manifests itself ever so subtly in the hiring process. Certainly there’s a cost, albeit difficult to quantify, of turning away or failing to court people of color or those with other minority characteristics, such as religion, age or sexuality.

If you aren’t convinced of the danger of subconscious preconceptions to your business, or if you are the type of person who needs hard numbers to be sold on a concept, consider this: a recent article in Forbes cited numbers that, based on current projections, indicate the purchasing power of Asians will increase by 370 percent between 2000 and 2017. For Hispanics, that figure is 350 percent.

What does that mean in dollars and cents? A University of Georgia Multicultural Economy report says the purchasing power of Hispanics in the United States in 2014 was $1.3 trillion. For African Americans that number was only slightly smaller at $1.1 trillion, and for Asians it was $770 billion.

Too many companies see minority groups as outside of their potential market, cutting off literally billions of dollars in potential revenue. A perfect example is the disappointing string of accusations – resulting in a $525,000 settlement – against luxury retailer Barneys, which claimed that the department store was racially profiling African Americans by neglecting to serve customers of color and putting extra efforts into surveillance of black shoppers. Not only does such behavior turn money away at the actual store where it’s taking place, but the national headlines and related word-of-mouth generated by such behavior also alienates an enormously wealthy potential customer base.

The issue is not exclusive to the United States. A recent Globe and Mail article cited a study of Canadian television ads based on 244 commercials. The study found that, not only were Canadian ads under-representing people of color, but those minority groups portrayed were also “represented much more narrowly, and stereotypically.”

The underlying unconscious bias at work in these examples is that the lion’s share of the wealth among potential consumers is held in the hands of white people. This subconscious bias is leaving trillions of dollars on the table.

The bottom line lesson? Be inclusive!

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