Corporate Culture in the UAE and Racial Discrimination
Eva Fernandes is convinced that the UAE workforce is plagued by a confirmation bias when it comes to racial stereotyping—but thinks it’s plain old ugly racial discrimination
November 27, 2011 5:13 by Reuters
Biases and, indeed, racial biases are unavoidable within any company. If you work in the UAE, you’d be well aware of the racial potholes that litter the workplace. It isn’t often, for example, for an Indian to praise a company for its pro-Indian attitude. And yet, that’s a exactly what a friend told me happened at a rather strange farewell lunch that they’d attended. The guest of honour stood up and gave a well planned speech on how the company he worked for really appreciate the tenacious and hard working nature of the “Sub-continental” employees of the company.
When I related this story back to a group of colleagues, it was interesting to note the reaction. While the cynics rolled their eyes and the realists’ snorted grunts of derision, one at the table related a rather appalling interview when a candidate of subcontinent origin joining a predominantly Middle Eastern company was told that he has been offered the job despite that fact that he is from the subcontinent.
I have already related the very obvious racial bias particularly apparent when one is looking out for a job in this region; it isn’t uncommon for companies to include a preference for a particular nationality as part of the job description. “American, British, Westerners ONLY” may read the description (just a few words short of blonde, blue eyed, with a history of colonisation, if you wanted to be a tad less subtle). Or the ad may go a different route, “Arab speakers, preferably Lebanese.” I even saw a listing from a popular TV station in the UAE that requested people with “American British accents ONLY.”
Dr Lee Newman, a behavioural science expert at IE University in Spain and the Dean of IE’s School of Social and Behavioural Sciences was recently in Dubai to share the latest findings on “the behavioural bases of human judgment and decision-making in the workplace.”
Newman says that because of the very culturally diverse nature of the workforce in Dubai, it isn’t unusual to find that the office is an excellent breeding ground for such biases. Newman explains these attitudes through the ‘confirmation bias’, in that employees tend to view one another through their own limited experiences and understandings of a particular culture. “So if, in my culture, a person is not forthcoming, it is a sign of deception or dishonesty and the confirmation bias comes into play. The next step is I’m going to look for ideas to confirm that idea and I may find things, but it may not be real” says Newman.
Now surely Dr. Newman is in a better position to talk about this issue, but I can’t help but feel that prevalent racial discrimination apparent in the employment process is plain old racial discrimination. Why? Well, the employer hasn’t even given a candidate the opportunity to even give him confusing cultural signals. Sure, Dr Newman talks here about both a culture of thinking and the corporate culture as well as different racial cultures. But even with this totality in mind, calling it a ‘confirmation bias’ is just a fancy way to dress up ugly stereotypes.
Have you felt like your career hasn’t progressed as it should because of these ‘confirmation biases’? Share your story by leaving a comment here or emailing us at [email protected].