How Racism Can Creep Into Your Security

The issue of racism and racial profiling is currently on everyone's mind right now. Global protests, systematic changes and communities demanding change have all re-established the issue of racism and the importance of change.

Racism comes in many forms and can creep into any workplace. While organisations can easily identify and mitigate racism in the form of verbal and physical abuse through policies and procedures, there are many forms of underlining racism that can often creep into workplaces without significant notice. These forms of racism can include prejudice, discrimination and racial profiling and can appear in any industry.

In regard to the security industry, racism can easily take place and be defended as standard security measures. For example, ever since September 11, there have been numerous cases of racial profiling of Muslim communities during security screenings. The recent killing of George Floyd has sparked fierce demand for systematic change around the world. While this modern movement has changed the way that many organisations try to prevent racism in their workplace, it is important to address racism in security due to the common misconception between enforcing security procedures and racial profiling.

In order to understand how racial profiling can sneak into security we must first understand a fundamental psychological factor in modern racism, heuristics.

A heuristic is a mental shortcut that allows us to make swift judgements without a comprehensive thought process. Unlike typical problem-solving processes, heuristics have no structured process in order to reach a decision. Heuristics provide us with fast results. There are multiple types of identifiable heuristics however, the focal heuristic that can unintentionally introduce racial profiling into decision making is the representative heuristic.

The representative heuristic involves making a decision by comparing your current situation to the most representative mental prototype. For example, if a security guard thinks that a specific customer looks like their grandmother, the guard may immediately assume that the customer is kind and has not stolen any goods (comparing the customer to his grandmother). While these heuristics can often be used effectively, racial profiling can quite easily influence how staff especially in security assess individuals.

One of the most influential factors of representative heuristics is the media. Media plays a significant role given that media outlets have the ability to control information to support a narrative. These cases are referred to as media bias and can result in significant consequences such as an increase in racial profiling and misinformation. If the media represent a group or race as dangerous or harmful, then the audience's representative heuristics may begin to associate anyone who resembles that group as harmful. This example often leads to racial profiling and can easily creep into workplaces (especially for risk-based procedures such as security).

In order to combat racial profiling in security there are a few strategies that organisations can deploy to mitigate the risk of concealed racism.?

Some tips on reducing racial profiling in your workplace

1: Enforce strict policies and procedures that deal with racial profiling.

The first step is quite easily the simplest, enforce strict policies against racism. Its necessary to inform staff of the consequences of racial profiling in order to get staff members thinking twice before making any decisions based on race.

2: Employ diverse workplace

Racial conflict in the workplace is not helped by a lack of diversity. While some studies suggest that racial bias may stem more from an organisation's culture rather than its diversity, a diverse workplace may help staff members avoid racial profiling based on heuristics. If organisations prioritise a diverse workplace, the staff members are constantly able to develop personal relationships with colleagues of different race, and therefore break down any existing negative representative heuristic ideas.

3: Utilise AI and automation in the workplace

While technological advances offer many new benefits for organisations, one enormous benefit can be a reduction in racial profiling and stereotypes. For example, in the airport security screening process rather than rely on security staff to randomly select passengers to conduct security testing, airports can use automated lighting to randomly select which passengers need to be searched. This simple technique can significantly reduce the risk of unintentional racial profiling because security staff will not be influenced by representative heuristics.

4: Monitor and educate staff

One of the most critical steps in mitigating the risk of racism in the workplace is to provide education to your staff members. Making sure that staff feel comfortable with and understand basic cultural differences is fundamentally one of the most important aspects in maintaining a racist-free workplace. In addition to education, its important to utilise methods of monitoring staff to ensure that staff abide by your organisations policies.

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