Rick Sanchez was living his American dream before he made the biggest mistake of his career.
He had gone from being a Cuban refugee raised in a barrio in South Florida with parents who never earned more than $11,000 annually to hosting his own show on CNN and having one of the highest-ranked news programs in the U.S.
"I was the first-ever Latino to host their own namesake show, 'Rick's List,' " Sanchez said. "Working at CNN was the pinnacle of my journalistic career."
However, he was fired by the media company in 2010 after making derogatory comments against comedian Jon Stewart, who is Jewish, and expressing doubt about the plight of Jewish workers during a radio interview.
"I definitely was wrong, and I should have chosen my words more carefully," Sanchez recalled. "I had left the impression that my comment was highly critical of the Jewish people. The words did hurt people—they were sloppy and offensive."
People's biases can manifest in the workplace through microaggressions, pay inequities and even violence. Helping employees understand the fallacies of these biases and learning how to reduce them can increase employee morale and foster a healthier company culture.
Learning from Mistakes
After his firing, Sanchez said, he lost everything. No company would hire him, friends wouldn't return his calls, and he could no longer afford his mortgage. But the firing paled in comparison to the public humiliation he experienced.
"Every late-night comedian at that time had me in their opening monologue," Sanchez said. "In hindsight, however, that was the greatest thing to happen to me. It made me reinvent myself—I became a better person. A more successful person."
To gain a better perspective on the topic, he met with rabbis in Israel and traveled to synagogues all over the U.S. to learn more about the Jewish community. He also apologized to Stewart and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) for his comments.
He believes his mistake served as an educational moment for him.
"My mentor, who became a dear friend, [former ADL National Director] Abe Foxman, was there for me during this time and helped me [understand my biases]," Sanchez said.
About 26 percent of hiring managers are less likely to move forward with Jewish applicants, according to a recent survey by website Resume Builder. And about 23 percent said they want fewer Jews in their industry.
Biases against other groups also run rampant in workplaces. For example, according to a 2021 Gallup poll, employees who are Black (24 percent) and Hispanic (24 percent) reported having been discriminated against at work in the past year at higher rates than white workers (15 percent).
Sanchez now spends much of his time running his own podcast, The Rick Sanchez Show, which aims to shatter misconceptions about Latinos in the U.S.
5 Tips for Overcoming Biases at Work
Netta Jenkins, a diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) executive and author of The Inclusive Organization: Real Solutions, Impactful Change, and Meaningful Diversity (Wiley, 2023), said employers can play a key role in reducing biased mindsets at work during the onboarding process.
"DE&I training [should be] baked into the onboarding process," she said. "Every new [employee] should participate in an intro DE&I [training program] … or online course in their first week and complete a quiz at the end of each section."
Joy Canonigo, director of DE&I at Discover Financial Services in Riverwoods, Ill., offered some tips for organizations to reduce workplace biases:
Discuss the realities of unconscious bias. Companies should explain to the workforce that bias is a human condition that can be changed. But they must choose their words carefully: Talking about biases in a negative way can cause people to "lean out instead of lean in to challenging conversations," Canonigo said.
Offer DE&I resources. Creating a DE&I council, providing literature during cultural observances or enlisting DE&I experts to speak to the workforce can help workers understand their own implicit biases.
Ensure pay equity. Inequitable systems and processes can create tension in the workplace. Leverage an independent, third-party consultant to conduct a companywide pay equity analysis that considers race, ethnicity and gender.
Build diverse teams. Leveraging diverse representation on teams and on interview panels is a great way to prevent groupthink, widen perspectives and challenge biases.
Reinforce inclusion in training programs. Train leaders on inclusive leadership and team members on inclusive ways of working.
Jenkins said actions must be taken against workers who commit a biased action. Victims of bias have developed mental health problems that create tension in their personal and professional lives. Organizations must protect their employees.
"The mental harm is disruptive to productivity, performance, peace, livelihood and life," Jenkins said. "This should not be treated lightly."