What Manafort’s Sentencing Tells Us About Bias

Manafort’s surprisingly light sentencing – 47 months – fell far short of the recommended 19 to 24 years, prompting outcries of how the justice system has a bias towards the wealthy and connected. To show the inequity in the system, a lawyer tweeted, “For context on Manafort’s 47 months in prison, my client yesterday was offered 36-72 months in prison for stealing $100 worth of quarters from a residential laundry room.”manafort mugshot

Our culture is beginning to look closer at the inequalities that seem baked into its systems. But often we just look at them as outside of ourselves, and fail to think how our own mini-systems have an effect on inequality.

Privilege isn’t just happening at the courtroom. Manafort and other white collar criminals benefit from the reputation of their crimes being victimless, and just financial, not physical. Often their skin color – usually the same as the judge’s – helps them be seen as a person, and not a nameless criminal.

This kind of bias can occur in the workplace too. Ever preferred a candidate, who happened to be more like you, for no real reason except your gut? Probably a bias towards the familiar.

Does your workplace tend to have a breakdown of who works where? I know I’ve worked in organizations where IT was mostly Asian, top brass was white males, middle managers were weighted toward white women, and administrative staff was black. Was that just the job everyone in those groups happened to dream of? Doubt it. More like they were seen as “fitting in” to that group, since they looked like most of the people there already.

How do institutions change?

Everyone can have bias baked in, and they don’t usually end up in a Manafort-esque sentencing situation. But they do have an impact on the workplace, and who ends up in your workforce. It’s important that you consider what biases you bring to work – personally – and what biases exist in the organization institutionally. Identifying their existence is the first step. Once you are aware of them, you can begin to challenge them. Critical thinking is key here. From there, you can start to bring more equality into your organization.people talking

Greater equality at the workplace will have enormous benefits for the organization. Not only will it foster more creativity and innovation, but you’ll have different talents, skills and experiences working alongside one another. It boosts morale and creates a mentally healthy workplace.

These are all positive benefits that will aid your organization. If you’re a team leader, you can start by implementing these changes in your own team development. And as an individual, reach across the divides to talk and brainstorm with others and get a different perspective. You never know what the receptionist may know about certain processes at work, or if IT knows a client’s pain points better than the account executive. Everyone has information. A savvy professional connects it all together to help their organization succeed.

As far as Manafort goes? Well, I guess it’s up to you, New York, New York!

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