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What is the Difference Between Implicit Bias and Unconscious Bias?

There is no difference between implicit and unconscious bias. They are two terms that mean the same thing. Attitudes, stereotypes, or opinions that we possess and that unconsciously affect our understanding, actions, and decisions. You may also hear it referred to as implicit social cognition.

Psychologists Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald were the first to use implicit bias in their 1995 research paper. They argued that unconscious associations and judgments influence our social behaviors.

Let’s say you are lost in a new city and decide to ask for help. The person you choose to talk to is not random. Some unconscious factors influence your decision, like if the person has a friendly face. And how do you determine if someone is friendly? Probably by their looks.

An attractive or well-dressed individual is more likely to be considered friendly than a less attractive or shabbily dressed individual. That’s a classic example of beauty bias, a type of unconscious bias we will discuss later in this post.

The problem with implicit biases is that they can be misleading. It’s possible the guy you overlooked because he doesn’t look "friendly" is more familiar with the city and would have been of better help than the "friendly" face you chose. In this article, the compliance training team at EasyLlama will break down the differences.

Everyone is susceptible to implicit or unconscious bias

As much as you would like to imagine yourself as an objective person that thinks everything through before committing, the truth is we all possess implicit biases. It’s the way our brains are wired.

The world is a complex place, and applying logic in every situation would be mentally exhausting. So, to make sense of everything and ensure quick decision-making, the brain relies on patterns and past experiences.

It’s not uncommon for an individual to be explicitly against a certain attitude but still exhibit a similar bias outside their conscious awareness. For example, consciously you believe men and women possess equal capabilities and should be given equal chances. However, in a situation where you have to choose between a man or a woman with equal qualifications to fill a role, you choose one gender because traditionally, the gender has proven to excel better in that role.

However, possessing implicit or unconscious biases doesn’t make you bad. After all, these biases exist outside our conscious awareness and we don’t realize they are at play until someone points it out to us.

Try out our quiz on unconscious bias to see how it is affecting your workplace. 

Implicit bias vs Explicit bias

Implicit bias is when one's decisions are unconsciously influenced by pre-existing beliefs about a certain group of people.  On the other hand, explicit bias is when one is aware of their pre-existing beliefs about a specific group of people and makes intentional decisions based on these beliefs.

An explicitly biased person controls their actions, but an implicitly biased person needs guidance to eliminate bias from their thinking.

And that’s why we have this post. We will highlight the most common types of implicit bias that people exhibit, allowing you to do some introspection and find out which one you are guilty of. We will also recommend steps you can take to eliminate implicit or unconscious bias from your thought process.

But first, let’s look at the implications of unconscious bias.

Implications of Implicit Bias - Why you must work to eliminate it

Unconscious or implicit bias exists in different areas in society, and it has adverse negative effects if left unchecked.

For instance, in the criminal justice system, unconscious bias is one of the reasons we have innocent people serving sentences while guilty people walk free. A judge passed a sentence not because there was conclusive evidence but because the accused was black or Latino and is, therefore, perceived to be more rebellious towards the law.

In this article, we will focus on implicit bias in the workplace and how it could hinder the growth of your business.

Negative effects of unconscious bias in the workplace

Implicit bias in the workplace is a significant issue because while it affects one individual, its implications are felt by the whole organization.

You unconsciously hired Rajesh over Jorden to fill the vacant programming role because there is a general belief that Asians excel in technical roles. But, as it turns out, Jorden is a better programmer than Rajesh and so your business ends up missing on her talent.

Hiring is just one of the areas that unconscious bias impacts the workplace. Other areas include promotions, assignment of responsibilities, and disciplinary actions. Here are some of the major implications of implicit bias on businesses.

  • Decreased productivity - This usually happens when an employee becomes aware of unconscious biases, consequently affecting how they perform their roles.
  • Underutilization of talent - Implicit bias when assigning responsibilities can lead to the less qualified worker being entrusted with a role that another employee would have been executed better by another employee.
  • Stunted innovation and business growth - If your business only hires people who conform to a certain standard, this will hinder diversity which we all know is key to innovation.
  • Less collaboration - Implicit biases by one group of employees towards another will cause alienation and affect teamwork in the company.
  • Legal troubles - If an employee victim discriminated against of implicit bias can prove they are against based on who they are, that can lead to lawsuits and expensive legal settlements.
  • Reputational damage to your business brand - Lack of inclusivity and diversity in a business due to any kind of bias is never good for PR.

Here are ways you can get rid of unconscious bias at work.

10 common types of implicit bias in the workplace

Here are the ten top examples of implicit bias in the workplace.

Stereotypes

Refers to generalized assumptions that all members of a certain social group possess the same qualities or characteristics. Let’s say you are doing a background check on a potential candidate and while going through their social media you come across several pictures of the candidate partying late at night. If you don’t hire the candidates based on this fact even when they have the necessary skill to execute their job, then that’s implicit bias at play. 

Racial bias

Racial bias refers to the automatic preference or prejudice against one race on an unconscious level. Blacks and Latinos are mostly the blunt end of racial bias, but it can also be the other way round. For example, a white manual worker may end up missing out on an opportunity to earn because the hiring team unconsciously believes that black people are stronger than white people.

Gender bias

It occurs when you pass judgment on a man or woman based on traditional traits that define masculinity or femininity. An example is if a man and a woman are in competition for a security job and the man ends up getting it not because they are more qualified but because security is perceived to be a manly responsibility.

Affinity bias

Affinity bias refers to when you naturally connect to someone similar to you. The consequence is that you favor those with similar characteristics and discriminate against those with different characteristics regardless of their actual capabilities.

Confirmation bias

It happens when instead of basing your decision on current data, you seek out traits and information that confirms what you already know. For example, the candidate with pictures of them partying on their social media comes in for an interview. If you engage in activities like subtly checking their breath or checking their eyes for signs of grogginess you are not being objective. You are just looking for proof that indeed they live for the party so that you have a reason not to give them the job.

Age bias

This happens when an employee is denied working opportunities or is treated differently because of their age. Older employers are usually the ones on the receiving end of this bias but it can happen to young people too. An example of age bias is if an older employee is overlooked when assigning a task because it involves the use of technology even if they have demonstrated to be up to date with all the current trends. 

Halo/Horns effect

This type of bias happens when an individual judge another person based on their high value and disregards all other values even when they are important. For example, a job candidate is chosen over others because they come from a reputable university even if other candidates have better qualifications. When the bias favors a candidate, it’s called the halo effect. If the bias works against a candidate, it’s called the horns effect.

Conformity bias

This happens when one lets their final decisions be influenced by the majority rather than data and facts. For instance, if an employee has an alternative way of doing things that could increase business leads but fails to raise it because everyone else prefers the old way, then that’s conformity bias at play.

Name bias

Refers to judging or treating people differently based on their name and what it implies. When the hiring manager chose Rajesh over Jorden for the programming job, because the name represents a group of people perceived to be more technically capable, that is an example of name bias.

Beauty bias

Refers to assumptions that attractive people will perform better in a designated role or that they deserve to be treated better. It can also be the other way round where an employee is treated differently because of how they look.

Tips to eliminate implicit biases in the workplace

By reading this post, you have already taken the first step to eliminating implicit bias or unconscious bias from your thought process. That’s because by familiarizing yourself with the different types of implicit biases you can recognize when you are engaging in them.

On a personal level, other steps you can take to remove implicit bias include:

  • Exposing yourself to different social groups and participating in culturally enlightening events.
  • Practicing mindfulness and meditation. This will help reduce mental fatigue which interferes with your logical reasoning.
  • Adjusting your perspective so that you can see the world from other people’s points of view.
And then to avoid cases of implicit bias in your company, conduct employee training so that your employees understand what is meant by implicit or unconscious bias. Be sure to use examples that are specific to your company to demonstrate the various types of biases in play.

You can also involve more people in the decision-making process and encourage discussions among them so that objectivity is never lost.

Conclusion

Admittedly, eliminating these unconscious biases from our thinking process isn’t going to be easy, and that’s mainly because we aren’t even aware we possess them. The best we can do is continue to create awareness about them and create environments that discourage us from being biased.