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Managers exhibiting bias based on race, gender, disability and sexual orientation

In a study that examined bias in the workplace, a University of Florida researcher found that those in management positions demonstrate explicit and implicit bias toward others from marginalized groups and often express more implicit bias than people who are not in management.

The study, published this month in Frontiers in Psychology, drew from 10 years of data publicly available from Harvard University’s Project Implicit, a repository of information from more than 5 million people.

George Cunningham, professor and chair of the UF Department of Sport Management, and his co-author analyzed responses from people who identified themselves as managers and compared their assessments of racial, gender, disability and sexual orientation biases to those from people in 22 other occupational designations.

“Stereotypes and prejudices harm workplace experiences and advancement opportunities for people from minoritized and subjugated backgrounds,” said Cunningham, who also is director of the Laboratory for Diversity in Sport. “While people undoubtedly experience mistreatment from coworkers and customers, our work shows that managers are also likely to express bias, particularly in implicit forms.”

Cunningham explained that while a great deal of research exists using the Project Implicit data, he had not seen any that compared biases among the different professional categories. Because the web-based test provides occupational codes, he could compare people whose primary role is in management, like a CEO or varying types of mid-management, to people in other employment positions.

The study’s authors learned that claims of racial, gender and disability discrimination were the most frequently filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission between 1997 and 2021. Because sexual orientation hadn’t been a federally protected employment characteristic, they drew data from UCLA’s Williams Institute, which reports that 45% of those who identify as LGBTQ+ have experienced some form of discrimination at work.

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