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Harvard University

Researchers have long known that bias can have an impact on hiring, but a new Harvard study suggests that it may also affect workplace performance.

Co-authored by Amanda Pallais, the Paul Sack Associate Professor of Political Economy and Social Studies, the study – based on data collected from a French grocery store chain — found that when minority workers were far less efficient in a handful of important metrics when working with biased managers.

That drop in performance, Pallais and co-authors Dylan Glover and William Pariente say, can create a self-fulfilling prophecy among those biased against minorities — managers believe minority workers are worse employees, and that bias then results in poorer performance by minorities, so managers believe minority workers are worse employees – that has the potential for wide-reaching impacts. The study is described in a recently-published paper in the Quarterly Journal of Economics.

“We were able to use metrics — how fast cashiers scan items, how much time they spend between customers, number of absences — to track their performance,” Pallais said. “But unlike many other jobs, the same worker works with different managers on different days, so we were able to compare the same worker’s performance on Monday with one manager to their performance on Tuesday with another manager.

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