How to Handle Personal Bias at Work

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    How do you handle people who treat you differently just because they have personal biases against you? When you’ve done everything by the book but still are treated like you don’t matter? When you have been polite, respectful, and circumspect but still your bosses won’t listen to you because you have the wrong skin color, the wrong body type, the wrong status?

    I know it’s a reflection of who these people are as a person but it’s so hard not to take things personally. And also because it’s affecting your ability to advance at work.

    I have so many examples that I’ve swept under the rug but over the years they’ve built up and I don’t think I can take it anymore.

    Once, we had to bring a box of flyers to a meeting. My supervisor thought this other girl was bringing them so he offered to help her bring them to the meeting. That girl replied that the flyers were with me. And then that was it. This supervisor didn’t extend the same courtesy to me. It’s so insulting and funny and depressing at the same time.

    And then there is this one client who always finds a bone to pick whenever I reply his email so now I have to draft the reply but let another colleague send it so my name won’t show up as the sender. I am disappointed with my management for buckling under instead of trying to reassure the client that I could do the job. Part of me thinks they don’t want me to succeed because I am seen as the outsider, the immigrant, who can never be more successful than locals even though I’ve been here for 10 years and I have every intention to become a citizen.


    Dear Priscilla:

    There is a lot of personal biases/ prejudice (“because you have the wrong skin color, the wrong body type, the wrong status” that you mentioned) going on, of course. One course of action is the legal route. When you evaluate specific incidents, sometimes the reasoning there is not prejudice but something else. In your example with your supervisor offering to help your co-worker with the flyers but not you, maybe his/ her reasoning was that she needed help and you didn’t, because you are more capable. Maybe. If the latter was the supervisor’s reasoning, it doesn’t mean that in other incidents the supervisor was not motivated by prejudice.

    When it is one of the things you mentioned: skin color, body type, status (legal immigrant/ citizen, I think you meant), again, legal action is one way to go as practiced prejudice is illegal at the workplace for one. Before taking legal action, if you are not sure of the reasoning/motivation, maybe ask, clarify, verify?



    Hi Anita,

    Thank you for your reply. Of course in the ideal world, we’d all be able to sort out our problems by having adult conversation. Unfortunately, this is real life, and I’m sure everywhere, if the discrimination is not extreme, people tend to sweep it under the rug. You just don’t want to rock the boat or be a killjoy, to be that one person who always calls everyone else out on their crap.

    In the ideal world, you’d call people out and they’d realize what they’ve been doing wrong and wise up. In real life, not everyone can do that. Most people who have benefited from social prejudice also would never knowingly relinquish their privileges so that social justice can be done.

    Hana L

    Hello Priscilla,

    I’m fighting the same battle as you are, and can relate. It is hard not to take things personally. It’s hard when you’re not given chances to advance in a job because you’re an immigrant, outsider, people automatically judging English isn’t your first language because you’re not of a certain skin colour (my personal experiences). I’ve gritted my teeth through them all. Vented about these situations to the people I’m close to.

    Unfortunately some people are trolls who get satisfaction by making other people miserable –> the most important question is, are you going to give them the satisfaction? No way! I learnt not to take what people said seriously unless their actions proved what they said, they’d do. My current working environment consists of a number of people who speak “well”, but act poorly.

    You sound like you’ve been working at your current job for a number of years now. What is it about your current job that makes you want to continue working there, if I may ask? I’m tolerating my current job because I want more experience in that field (I’ve been fighting to enter that field for years now, so I’m really tolerating what I’m currently experiencing at work). That’s what drives me.




    Hello, Hana!

    That’s such a good and positive attitude to have. You are right, I am not going to give them the satisfaction! I actually do not want to continue working here but so far haven’t had any luck in finding a new job, so better a bad job than no job at all, I suppose. I am tolerating my situation, just like you.

    Some example of the discrimination bullsh*t I face daily: I have this colleague – let’s call her A. The bosses listen to her. I’ve ‘tested’ my bosses on occasions, I’d say something to them and back it up with sound reasoning etc and I could see their eyes were glazing over, then I’d say ‘A thinks so, too’ and they’d immediately decide to go in that direction.

    Sure, I can do this to make my life easier but the thing is, by doing this, I am perpetuating my bosses’ bad behavior and my career will never advance because I will always have to play second fiddle to people like A, even though I am just as qualified as her.

    Hana L

    Hi Priscilla,

    I think job hunting is hard, especially with the economy nowadays and moreso in fields which are more competitive. You’re right in thinking right now better to have a job (albeit not great) than no job. Maybe you could also consider studying part time for another skill set as an option for career advancement/change of career in the future?

    In work situations like ours, it may not be a good course of action to try rock the boat too much (getting into management’s bad books may cause a lot more than just being stuck in a position for years; a person may even not be considered for job/s because managements from different companies have communicated with each other). Yes, I agree it’s not great having to tolerate superiors which act in that way, and by not doing anything much  the bad behavior is likely to perpetuate. I’m not saying to become a doormat and allow people to walk over you but I would encourage fostering some good work relationships at the very least so that the bosses wouldn’t consider you as a scapegoat if troubles arise (should that situation arise, then leaving the job would be the better option for your own sake).

    In your situation regarding the bosses agreeing with A, maybe if you could consider that your work is moving ahead (because “A also thinks so”), instead of the bosses saying no and your work can’t continue because you need your bosses’ approval –> it might be a good thing? Or in your original post the supervisor didn’t offer to help you with bringing the flyers to the meeting, but you think “It’s okay, I’m capable of bringing the flyers myself, with or without help!”

    Take care!




    Hi Priscilla and Hana

    Even though I may not be facing discrimination as most people in my group are inmigrants and see favouritism. I can see an example like the one with the flyers happening to me.

    What i have been doing is:

    Realize that is a reflection of who they are

    Try to identify the things I have been doing that may have contributed to the situation. I realized that I need to be more clear i  the way I express my messages for example


    I realize that I am my own voice. I would love having the mentoring and nurturing environment that makes you feel safe. That’s  my need and I had to accept that they just can’t provide that as they are fighting their own battles


    I repeat to myself constantly that I belong. If I want respect…i give myself respect. I want toletance. I give myself and others tolerance. I speak. I trust my ideas and I am prepared to respond back and defend my ideas when someone says no.


    I realize that I have to trust my achievements and my skills  and be open with them with kindness ans compassion


    I have worked in forgiving ofenses and letting go grudges.


    All this of course has taken a looooot of work, meditation, coaching,  listening to Pema Chodron and similar teachers etc…but it has been al worth  it.


    Sadly, people look at such things regardless of the person’s coloration, etc.  It goes back and forth across ethnicities and has existed for longer than humans developed (basically the differentiation between like and not-like in the animal kingdom).  For all of the mental advancements of humanity, we still haven’t figured some of this stuff out.

    I’ve had ideas shot down simply because I’m a “privileged white male”  with financial assets.  I’ve seen other people have ideas shot down, or accepted, simply because they are an “X” or a “Y” without any regard for the experience or lack thereof of the source.

    If you feel like you aren’t getting a fair shake, I humbly suggest that you find another job.  Starting during law school, and continuing to the present day, I suffer(ed) from psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.  Had a bad flare up on my face during an interview with one law firm, and the person wouldn’t even shake my hand (you’d think that somebody with 7+ years of formal education would recognize that you aren’t going to “catch” psoriasis).  I felt terrible about the situation, and I let similar encounters affected my job search for a considerable period of time.  Then, I realized that instead of letting it bother me and allowing me to devalue myself, that I needed to take a different approach.  Found a place that didn’t care about such things, and wound up making more than several of the prior job openings would have paid.

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