unconscious bias

June 24, 2024

In today’s diverse and dynamic workplaces, unconscious bias subtly influences our actions and decisions, often leading to inaccurate conclusions and judgments. These hidden biases shape our choices in various ways, affecting hiring practices, team dynamics, project assignments, performance evaluations, promotion decisions, and everyday interactions among colleagues. Despite being invisible, unconscious biases significantly impact the workplace, creating barriers to fairness and inclusivity. 

To mitigate these effects, it is crucial for employees and managers to be aware of the many types of biases that can influence our behavior. Recognizing these biases in ourselves is the first step towards greater awareness and fostering a fairer, more inclusive environment where everyone feels valued. By taking proactive steps to minimize and prevent the influence of unconscious bias, we can create a workplace culture that promotes equality and empowers all individuals to thrive. 

Understanding Unconscious Bias 

Unconscious bias, or implicit bias, occurs when people make decisions implicitly based on the characteristics of another without realizing or intending to do so. Biases are sneaky, creeping into our minds. They develop unconsciously over time through a variety of channels ─ our upbringing, media, personal experiences and societal stereotypes ─ becoming mental shortcuts our brains take when making decisions or judgements. 

A Deloitte survey found that 39% of employees experience unconscious bias at least once a month, with 68% reporting that these biases negatively impact employees and the workplace. 

  • Decreased Job Satisfaction: Employees who perceive bias are likely to be less satisfied with their jobs, which can lead to higher turnover rates. 
  • Lower Employee Engagement: When employees feel that their work environment is biased, they are less likely to be engaged and motivated, reducing overall productivity. 
  • Higher Stress and Anxiety: Experiencing or perceiving bias can increase stress and anxiety levels among employees, leading to potential mental health issues. 
  • Reduced Organizational Commitment: Employees who perceive bias may feel less loyalty and commitment to their organization, impacting team cohesion and morale. 

According to a report by PerceptionPredict, biases in recruitment processes can lead to less diverse teams. This lack of diversity can hinder creativity and problem-solving, as homogeneous teams are less likely to challenge each other’s ideas and perspectives. 

“Left unchecked, unconscious bias can undermine a company’s diversity and inclusion efforts and impede success by overlooking talent and ideas, resulting in missed opportunities and higher turnover.” says Maggie Smith, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Traliant. “Ongoing education to mitigate the impacts of unconscious bias on daily decisions is essential to driving better business outcomes and increasing employee satisfaction.”  

Types of Unconscious Bias 

Understanding the various types of unconscious bias is the first step in addressing them. Below are some common types of unconscious bias that can influence decision-making and interactions at work: 

  1. Affinity Bias: Favoring people who are similar to us in some way, whether it’s shared interests, backgrounds or experiences. For instance, you might unconsciously prefer a job candidate who attended the same college as you. 
  1. Attribution Bias: Attributing our successes to our own efforts and skills, while attributing others’ successes to external factors. Conversely, we might blame others’ failures on their personal shortcomings while excusing our own failures as due to external circumstances. 
  1. Confirmation Bias: Seeking out information that confirms our pre-existing beliefs and ignoring information that contradicts them. This can lead to overlooking the potential of employees who don’t fit our preconceived notions of what a successful employee looks like. 
  1. Conformity Bias: When our views are swayed by those of a group. This can result in decisions that reflect group thinking rather than independent judgment, potentially stifling innovation and perpetuating existing biases. 
  1. Halo Effect: When one positive attribute of a person influences our perception of their other attributes. For example, if an employee excels in one area, we might assume they are competent in all areas, which might not be the case. 
  1. Horn Effect: The opposite of the halo effect, the horn effect occurs when a single negative attribute leads us to perceive a person more negatively overall. This can unfairly disadvantage employees who make a single mistake. 

Steps to Overcoming Unconscious Bias 

Addressing unconscious bias requires a continuous effort. Here are practical steps companies can take to reduce bias within their workplace: 

1. Increased Awareness 

The first step in overcoming unconscious bias is recognizing that it exists. Provide training to help employees become aware and understand what unconscious bias is and how it affects their behavior. 

2. Implement Structured Processes 

Developing structured processes for hiring, performance reviews, and promotions to mitigate the influence of unconscious bias. This includes using standardized interview questions, evaluation criteria and decision-making frameworks to ensure consistency and fairness. 

3. Encourage Diverse Perspectives 

Fostering a culture that values diverse perspectives to counteract the effects of unconscious bias. Encourage employees to share their experiences and viewpoints and create opportunities for diverse voices to be heard in decision-making processes. 

4. Promote Inclusive Behavior 

Promote inclusive behavior within your organization by setting expectations for respectful communication and recognizing and rewarding inclusive actions. 

5. Use Data to Drive Decisions 

Leveraging data and analytics to identify patterns of bias and measure the effectiveness of interventions. Track metrics such as hiring rates, promotion rates and employee satisfaction across different demographic groups to gain insights into where biases may be occurring and take corrective actions. 

6. Foster a Growth Mindset 

Encourage a growth mindset, where employees view challenges as opportunities to learn and grow. This can help individuals recognize their biases and work towards overcoming them. 

7. Create Accountability Mechanisms 

Established accountability mechanisms can ensure that efforts to address unconscious bias are sustained over time. This includes setting diversity and inclusion goals, regularly reviewing progress and holding leaders accountable for creating an inclusive workplace. 

How Traliant Can Help 

Overcoming unconscious bias is an ongoing process that requires commitment, awareness, and continuous improvement. Traliant’s Unconscious Bias training versions for employees and managers challenges learners to explore the nuances of unconscious bias, how our own biases can impact their judgments and decisions about others at work, and ways they can effectively mitigate its effects.  

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By

Mark Hudson