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If people’s long-held biases cannot be so easily weeded out what can be changed is what they do about them. But everything we know about the roots of prejudice and how to fight it effectively suggests that precisely this attitude, turning a blind eye to acts of bias allows discrimination to thrive. To do nothing, in the context, is an act of consequence in itself, letting the virus of prejudice spread unopposed.

More to the point than diversity training courses or perhaps essential to their having much effect,  is that the norms of a group be decisively changed by taking an active stance against any acts of discrimination, from the top echelons of management on down. Biases may not budge, but acts of prejudice can be quashed , if the climate is changed.

As an IBM executive put it,

“We don’t tolerate slights or insults in any way; respect for the individual is central to IBM’s culture.”

 

If research on prejudice has any lesson for making a corporate culture more tolerant , it is to encourage people to a peak out against even low-key acts of discrimination or harassment offensive jokes, say, or the posting of girlie calendars demeaning to women coworkers.

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To stop at battling prejudice in the workplace is to miss a greater opportunity; taking advantage of the creative and entrepreneurial possibilities that a diverse workforce can offer. As we shall see, a working group of varied strengths and perspectives, if it can operate in harmony, is likely to come to better, more creative and more effective solutions than those same people working in isolation.


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