Many times, internal human resources has been accused of overlooking, ignoring or even enabling sexually harassing behaviors, especially in the C-suite. Even more so when senior management handles the intake of internal complaints.
Psychologists have evidence that discrimination is behavioral and systemic. These types of behaviors maintain feedback loops that keep underprivileged groups marginalized. Top that with implicit/unconscious bias, which is an assumption that we make – it is not based on reasoning it is just a feeling we have. This form of prejudice can stem from as early childhood and continue to develop through outside influences. It’s called unconscious because it isn’t something we do intentionally; rather, it is an involuntary process based on our deep-seated thoughts.
But with respect to internal investigations, I would like to look at what psychologist’s call “confirmation bias.” Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions, favors, and recalls information in a way that affirms one’s prior beliefs or hypotheses. It is a type of cognitive bias and a systematic error of inductive reasoning which leads to statistical errors.
As such, it can be thought of as a form of selection bias in collecting evidence. In the case of sexual harassment investigations, depending on the rank of the person being accused, HR may appear to be biased since they may conduct the investigation and evaluate the data in a way that is less likely to prove the alleged harassment. Bottom line, this is just human nature, we can all succumb to it just like unconscious bias.
The safest and surest way to counter unconscious bias is to bring in an outside investigator, like Carol Flynn.