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Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

We must all acknowledge our unconscious biases, and listen with less bias when women, and others who are marginalized, speak out. A lot of change is possible by just acknowledging unconscious bias – that exhaustively documented but unpleasant reality many would rather ignore – and listening with less bias and acting on what we then learn.”

Tara Moss


The human mind is fantastic at creating connections and grouping things together for easy access. Due to the human brain’s tendency to create shortcuts, everyone has unconscious biases. Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about a certain group of people that individuals form outside their conscious awareness. It occurs automatically and is triggered by our brain making a quick judgment. This bias worsens as we climb the ladder. Whether we realize it or not, an unconscious bias thrives in our society.

In reality, biases affect us and the decision-making process in a number of ways:

  • Perception. How we see people and perceive reality.
  • Attitude. How we react to certain people.
  • Behaviors. How to receptive/friendly we are towards certain people.
  • Attention. Which aspects of a person we pay most attention to.
  • Listening Skills. How much we actively listen to what certain people say.
  • Micro-Affirmations. How much or how little we comfort certain people in a certain situation.

We all have unconscious bias. By improving awareness of various types of unconscious bias,

Attribute Bias

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It refers to how to perceive your actions and those of others. Attribute bias or attributional bias is a cognitive bias when people evaluate or try to find reasons for their own and other’s behavior.

Beauty Bias

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Appearances are important, particularly in a workplace setting, it reflects professionalism and self-awareness. However, many of us judge others too harshly based on their physical attractiveness.

Conformity Bias

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Conformity bias relates to bias caused by group peer pressure. It happens when your views are swayed too much by other people.

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias featured image

We make a judgment about another person, we subconsciously look for evidence to back up our own opinions of that person. It leads to selective observation, meaning overlooking other information instead of focusing on things that fit your view.

Contrast Effect

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A type of bias that occurs when assessing two or more similar things and comparing them with one another. Rather than looking at each based on their own merits.

Gender Bias

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Gender bias is simply a preference for one gender over the other. It can cause unconsciously lean towards a candidate based on their gender and the qualities associated with it. Gender bias occurs because we favor people that we can relate to, especially those of the same gender.

Halo Effect

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It occurs when we focus on one particularly great feature of a person. Similar to Affinity and Confirmation Bias, this makes us overlook other pieces of information.

Horns Effect

Horn effects are the opposite of the halo effect. It focuses on one particular negative feature about a person, which clouds the view of their other qualities.

Today, organizations are slowly recognizing that they must provide training on unconscious bias to create a more inclusive culture. Here are the steps the organization should consider.

Set Realistic Expectations

Raising expectations that unconscious bias training will eliminate all bias would be disingenuous. The goal is to be conscious is not to pretend to be blind to differences that exist.

Provide the training in-person

It requires interactions, trust, and opportunity for people to meet in a safe environment.

Be extremely judicious in selecting the right facilitator

They should be highly qualified and well-versed in the social psychology of attitude formation, be excellent and empathetic facilitators, and have a non-threatening and inclusive style that avoids guild trips.

Incorporate unconscious bias assessment tools

Project Implicit is an example of a successful tool that helps to uncover hidden biases in many criteria.

Take a different perspective

Use proven successful simulations, to help people take the perspective of others.

Discover the underlying message its impact

Have groups discuss the words and other symbolic representations that they find offensive and why.

Provide debiasing counter-stereotyping activities

Make associations that go counter to existing stereotypes.

Address the topic of in-group favoritism and how it operates in the organization

Diverse viewpoints result from more creativity and innovation.

In business, biases can be costly cause to make decisions that are not objective, which results to missed opportunities. In order to attract and retain the best talent, here are some steps we can take to reduce the effects of unconscious bias.

Be Aware

Awareness begins to ‘tip’ out unconscious into the conscious where it can be completely aware and begins to manage the bias and its effects.

Question others and yourself

Raise awareness to reduce the effects of unconscious bias by asking the following questions:

  • Is my opinion factually true?
  • Is it always factually true?
  • What evidence do I have?

Create Inclusive Meeting Practices

Micro-behaviors is one of the ways your bias can affect others. Here’s how to reduce the effects of biases during meetings:

  • Be aware of how you enter a meeting.

Acknowledge everyone at the meeting and greeting them with a smile and a cheerful ‘hello’.

  • Value others’ time as much as you value your own.

Arrive on time during the meeting and apologize if you are late. Pay attention and ensure you are prepared.

  • Do not always sit next to the same person every meeting.

Sit next to them if there is someone in the meeting you feel a bias against.

  • Limit interruptions, including checking your emails or using your phone.

The impact of micro-behaviors associated with the use of technology should not be underestimated.

  • If you disagree with someone else’s opinion, respond constructively rather than giving a negative response.

Create a Supportive Dialogue

We all have unconscious biases and it can be difficult to have and manage the conversation about giving or receiving of these micro-behaviors. Supportive phrases can be used to help you approach the subject and ensure a constructive outcome:

  • Acknowledge (Feelings)
  • Clarify (Avoid Assumptions)
  • Explore (Evidence)
  • Solve (Moving Forward)

Workplace bias takes many forms, but the result is always the same.  The common type of bias in the workplace is implicit, or unconscious. Unconscious bias can skew talents, performance reviews. It also affects who gets hired, promoted, and developed.

HR and talent management professionals can help their organization uncover and combat unconscious bias and its effects in the workplace by using the following steps:

Offer Awareness Training

Addressing unconscious biases in the workplace is to acknowledge that everyone has them, and it can be done by offering awareness training. Awareness training gives employees a safe place to learn about unconscious bias and how to recognize their own biases and be mindful about combating them in everyday decision making.

Label the Types of Biases that are likely to occur

To eliminate unconscious bias is to label the types of bias that are likely to happen in the workplace.

Create Structures

Create structures for activities like decision making, resume screening, and interview formats. These structures allow more deliberative actions and also give peer opportunity to point out a time when unconscious biases are sleeping in.

Confronting this type of bias requires a careful approach because most people are not aware of it. Recognizing that the bias exists is the key to reducing its influence.


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