5 Types of Unconscious Bias That Can Affect the Workplace

5 Types of Unconscious Bias That Can Affect the Workplace

Most companies these days have good intentions when it comes to hiring. They actively seek to make the hiring process fair and equitable. While this is a noble pursuit, it is important to recognize the impact of unconscious bias in these situations. Unconscious bias involves learned stereotypes about certain people. All individuals carry biases that are developed through socialization. These biases lead us to judge people unfairly based on limited facts. Individuals need to be intentional when it comes to identifying and preventing unconscious bias.

In the workplace, unconscious bias can benefit some people while putting others at a significant disadvantage. For many people, unconscious bias can be very emotionally taxing, such as when someone is constantly mistaken as part of the service staff or is interrupted frequently during meetings. To create a more supportive workplace, it is important to recognize these situations and correct them. Part of understanding and preventing unconscious bias is learning how to identify it. Unconscious bias can present itself in a number of different ways, including the following:

1. Confirmation bias

The term “confirmation bias” refers to the human tendency to look for evidence that supports our initial opinions rather than considering the points on various sides. Often, people overlook information that points to a different conclusion or opinion and instead focuses on the one or two points that align with their initial impression. In the workplace, this means that people may look for confirmation of their initial impression instead of looking at the whole person. When you are considering a candidate, it is important to consider all of the points being presented and weigh them fairly. You may need to actively think about your initial impression and seek out evidence to the contrary to understand how deep this bias runs.

2. Affinity bias

People tend to unconsciously prefer people with whom they share certain qualities. For example, a hiring manager may choose someone that went to the same college or comes from the same hometown over another person who is more qualified. Our brains are wired to trust people who are familiar and relatable over those who are less similar to them, so it is important to consider the impact of affinity in the workplace. Individuals generally want to be around people they can relate to, but this tendency can severely limit diversity in the workplace. Be sure to think about the connections you have to people and consider how they affect your judgment. Doing so can help you create a more welcoming and diverse workplace. Diversity is extremely important in terms of driving creativity and ensuring that different viewpoints are represented.

3. Gender bias

Gender bias means that one gender is preferred over another. In the business world, a lot of gender bias is overt. However, there is also a lot of unconscious gender bias stemming from deep-seated beliefs about gender roles, not to mention stereotypes. Unfortunately, if these biases go unchecked, people may bring a lot of preconceived notions to the office and end up alienating others while reducing the overall diversity of the workforce. Gender bias can sometimes stem from affinity bias, meaning that people tend to hire and work with individuals of a similar gender. In some ways, it is easier to connect to someone of the same gender, but letting this bias guide decision-making can limit workplace diversity.

4. Attribution bias

The term “attribution bias” is usually used to talk about how people assess themselves. Individuals often attribute their accomplishments to their skills and then blame their failures on external factors. In the business world, it is important to recognize that attribution bias reverses when we consider other people. When someone is successful, we can be quick to attribute that success to luck. However, when people fumble, we believe that it is due to intrinsic shortcomings or a lack of skill. This bias can affect how people get promoted, or even how their achievements are celebrated in the workplace. Whenever you consider another person’s failures or shortcomings, ask yourself if you are being fair in your assessment or giving in to attribution bias.

5. Halo effect

The halo effect often affects relationships in the workplace. This type of unconscious bias occurs when people focus on one impressive feature of a person above anything else. Because of that one impressive feature, everything else is seen in a positive light, which can convince us that people are much more perfect than they actually are. If you feel like you have favorites in the workplace, you should analyze why you feel that way. Perhaps the person is hard-working and deserves that esteem. However, you may find that you are viewing the person in a favorable light due to the halo effect.

About the Author

Joanna RileyJoanna (Jo) Riley is an entrepreneur, investor, and advocate in technology, and is currently the CEO and Co-Founder of Censia. Jo has a highly experienced background in building and scaling companies, which she attributes to her deep passion for people and building technologies that allow people to be their best selves. She brings her wide knowledge of the industry to better transform the way enterprise companies hire talent. You can connect with Joanna Riley at @joannakiddriley on Twitter or on Linkedin. Read her full bio here.