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How Unconscious Bias Impacts Singles in the Workplace

We’ve written frequently about unconscious bias. It’s a factor that impacts our relationships with others in both personal and professional ways—and it’s pervasive. We often think about unconscious bias and its impacts on interactions with others of different races, ethnicities, or genders.

But, Bella DePaulo, in an article for Quartz, notes that there is another form of discrimination that often goes unseen. And it isn’t related to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or religion. There’s a tendency in many workplaces, DePaulo says, for employers and managers to think that their single, childless employees have more flexibility to work longer hours, to travel more and even to take a back seat to the vacation or time off requests of their married colleagues. This, she points out, “puts singles in a highly unfair (not to mention undesirable) position.”

These perspectives are based on a fundamental misconception about the lives of single people, says DePaulo. Just because they may not have children or spouses doesn’t mean they have no attachments, or that the attachments they do have are less meaningful than those of their married coworkers. “When the workday ends, when the weekend is in sight, when holidays roll around, and when it is time to plan vacations, singles often have people in their lives they want to see—people who care about them, depend on them, and feel like family, even if they are not family in the traditional sense,” she writes.

And while being single in the workplace – which of course implies being a single adult – may once have been relatively uncommon, DePaul points out that it’s increasingly common. “In the US, for example, in 1970, only 28% of adults 18 and older were not married. Now, nearly half (45%) are unmarried. Americans now spend more years of their adult lives not married than married,” says DePaulo.

DePaulo’s article is worth a read. She goes into much greater detail than we have summarized here about the unique challenges, relationships and considerations that relate to singles in the workplace and which are typically disregarded by employers and coworkers. This applies to singles regardless of sex, race, etc. The article is a great reminder of how diversity takes many forms, beyond the usual checkboxes we’re typically used to thinking about.

The bottom line: be inclusive!

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