A new study is showing us that we’re not all equal after all. Or at least, we don’t see one another that way.
According to the Academy of Management Journal, people tend to give higher customer satisfaction ratings to white men rather than to women or minorities, even with their performances are identical. How the journal arrived at this conclusion is that researchers divided 86 college students into groups and showed each group one of three videos of an employee–customer encounter in a bookstore. Everything was identical in the video — script, setting, and camera angles.
The only difference was the store clerk. In a given video, the clerk was either a white woman, a black man, or a white man. The focus groups’ demographics were diverse, with a number of women and non-whites in each group. Interestingly enough, the groups rated the white man’s performance as the best.
We know what you’re thinking. It was a fluke because they were limited in only testing college students. However, a second test was conducted with 12,000 patients rating their doctors on performance. This test showed that follow-up e-mail messages from doctors caused patients to increase their ratings — but only when the doctor was a white man.
The lead author of this report, assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin David R. Hekman, aptly said that the results of these findings “suggest that the customer is always wrong. Everyone — white, Black, men, women — thinks that the white man is more valuable. Someone needs to call customers out on their biases.”
We couldn’t have said it better. It is upsetting that this study shows that, as hard as we work to be good in our careers, if it were a white man doing the same job, he’d be perceived as doing it better. There is obviously a problem here.
So what can we do? After all, these are people’s perceptions, and much of it is subconscious.
The best course of action is to support women and minorities in difficult situations, when this bias is overt. Most of us know what it’s like to work in customer service — many of us have faced obstacles at a job because of racial or gender biases. Back when those incidents occurred, how great would it have been if a customer spoke up for you? It doesn’t happen enough.
We need to look within ourselves and try to amend our own biases against others. We also need to do our best to educate and discuss these issues with the people around us — acquaintances, coworkers, friends, and even family. We should strive to be more aware of what is happening, and when we can, try to make someone else’s day better. ♦