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How Does Unconscious Bias Affect the Workplace? Everything You Need To Know

Nowadays, humans have great minds that are open to diversity and inclusion - but how does unconscious bias affect the workplace? No one is perfect, and people can be subject to implicit bias without even noticing. That's right, you might be a little racist or discriminating without even knowing it.

With that in mind, unconscious bias in the workplace can lead to a series of setbacks between employees. Bias at work may prevent the right people from advancing in a certain position, without even being related to their skills. 

This is why unconscious biases need to be tackled at the workplace. This way, the decision-making process will be done based on a person's skills, and not just a set of biases.

Note: If you want to create a more inclusive workplace and fight against unconscious bias, try our diversity and inclusion program. We help educate your workforce on how bias can impact the work environment. This will help protect against a hostile environment and lead to a more efficient work community.

What Is Unconscious Bias In the Workplace?

Unconscious bias is a stereotype or a belief that we hold about a certain group of people - the beliefs going past our conscious mind. These stereotypes are naturally picked up starting childhood by means of  TV, cartoons, media representation, and personal experience.

Times may have changed, and your opinion may have changed as well. But somewhere in the back of your mind, you still follow those stereotypes. The problem is that these stereotypes have been so deeply ingrained in our brains that we don't even notice them taking place. 

But why do people go through unconscious bias in the workplace? Well, these biases are our brain's "mental shortcut," and we use them as a way to make sense of the world or make a decision. 

In most cases, these mental shortcuts are harmless, and sometimes are even helpful. Let's say that we go past a coffee shop and there is a long line there. In this case, our mental shortcut will likely tell us that they are selling good coffee there. 

However, these mental shortcuts can also be quite damaging. They can cause us to make assumptions and favor one person over the other, without actually getting to know most of those people.

Types of Unconscious Bias

There are various kinds of unconscious bias in the workplace that you may be guilty of without even realizing it. Here are the main types:

Racial Bias

Racial bias is likely one of the most insidious discrimination forms, but at the same time, it is the most common type of unconscious bias. According to studies, only 3.2% of Black Americans are likely to occupy a position at the top.

Racial bias grew even more during the coronavirus pandemic, with the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. This is why it's important for workplaces to completely eradicate workplace unconscious bias.

Gender Bias

Gender bias occurs when one gender is a more preferred choice as compared to the other. Most of the time, this happens when men are preferred in the workplace in favor of women. Vice-versa may also occur, depending on the work environment. 

Certain studies show that women were 30% less likely to be promoted into a leadership position even if their resumes were completely identical to those of their male counterparts. This also mirrors in the payment that they receive. This is usually a result of unconscious gender bias.

LGBTQ Bias

Bias may also occur when people at the workplace interact with groups of people from the LGBTQ community. Also, employees from this community usually have a harder time advancing in a higher position.

Affinity Bias

Affinity bias occurs when employees show an inclination towards people that are similar to them in a certain way. This may include shared hobbies, characteristics, backgrounds and so on. This can affect  the decision-making process at the job, as people are more likely to choose workers based on implicit bias rather than skill.

Name Bias

Name biases occur when a certain type of name is less likely to be chosen in favor of another. For example, certain employers are more likely to hire people with names from their country rather than foreign-sounding ones. 

Appearance Bias

Appearance bias occurs when people with certain looks are treated differently compared to other types of physiques. In this case, people who are considered "attractive" might have preferential treatment. A person who is tall and lean, for example, might be treated differently as compared to someone who is short and plus-sized.

Age Bias

Age bias occurs when people make assumptions about a person based on their age. For example, an older employee may be seen as someone who is "resistant to technology," whereas a younger employee may not be taken as seriously as someone who is older.

Halo Effect

The halo effect occurs when you think that everything about a person occurs simply because you hold them in high regard.

Horns Effect

The horns effect is the exact opposite of the halo effect. In this case, we focus on the negative features of a person, preventing us from seeing their true skills. People should know that the flaws of a person do not represent them as a whole. 

Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is the tendency to want to confirm a pre-existent assumption or idea in regard to a specific group of people. 

How Does Bias Affect the Workplace?

There are many reasons why we need to address unconscious bias in the workplace. Here are some ways in which it can affect the work environment: 

It Hinders the Hiring Process

When it's left unsolved, unconscious bias may significantly affect the workplace by hindering the hiring process. Applications are rejected based not on the skill of the employee, but on the bias of the employer. With time, this can lead to a weaker workforce, as people with skills may be rejected from the hiring process. 

It Affects Employee Experience

When unconscious bias is not addressed, it affects the morale and the overall experience of the workers. These workers may end up feeling alienated, and also be less likely to make their ideas heard. Someone that goes through negative bias may be more likely to start looking for another job.

It Wastes the Potential of an Employee

If someone is promoted based on a bias, the entire organization will suffer from it. Less-abled employees may be placed in a position of power, while a more-abled one will be rejected because of a bias. This might make the employee quit their current job and start looking in another place, causing the company unconscious loss. 

Why Is Unconscious Bias Important In the Workplace?

Unconscious biases are important to be determined in the workplace because they need to be eliminated. Nowadays, we are heading towards a new era, where diversity is overall accepted. It is indeed difficult to get past these impulses altogether, but they can be significantly removed through initiative and awareness.

Unconscious bias is important because, by determining it, we can set a working environment that is equal and fair. We can promote workplace diversity, and therefore, improve the productivity of a company.

If you think your workplace is impacted by this, try our unconscious bias quiz questionnaire and see if it is so.

What Does Unconscious Bias Affect?

Unconscious bias influences a variety of things, including the way in which a certain group of employees may interact with the other. It affects many things from teamwork to the recruitment process, and it prevents the company from advancing into diversity. 

For instance, when unconscious bias affects the decision-making process, employers may end up hiring the wrong person and send the right person away. This is because they chose based on a bias, not a skill. In the end,  unconscious bias affects the well-being of a company, as capable people are being turned away. 

How to Tackle Unconscious Biases at the Workplace

Unconscious bias, like its name suggests, often affects us unconsciously. However, with increased awareness, it may be changed. Here is how one may tackle unconscious bias at the workplace.

Recognize Your Biases

Most of the time, you can tackle unconscious biases by simply taking a good look at yourself. Be honest with yourself, along with the stereotypes that may affect you. 

For instance, your conscious mind may think that men and women are just as effective at their job. However, as a woman, you may unconsciously believe that men are lacking in empathy. 

Consider "Blind Recruitment"

In many cases, bias occurs from the moment you see someone's age, name, gender, or other internal diversity factors. To ensure that bias is avoided, you may use software to hide said information and only display their skills and experience. This will avoid any kind of affinity unconscious bias.

Give Your Decision-Making Time

When making a decision, you might want to slow down and give it some time. The human brain can process consciously around 40 items per second - but unconsciously, it can process as many as 11 million things. Give your brain enough time to make a decision. 

Use Gender-Neutral Language in Recruitment Ads

Certain words or phrases may be seen as gender-specific. Therefore, to avoid unconscious bias in the workspace, you might want to write gender-neutral recruitment ads. 

For instance, words such as "aggressive" may be seen as masculine, whereas "trust" and "empathy"  can be seen as feminine. Gender decoders might ensure that your text does not have any gender-oriented ads.

Survey the Employees

To tackle unconscious bias, you need to be aware of everything that is going around in there. This is why, if you are the employer, you need to survey your employees for any potential implicit bias. This will remove or at least control stereotypes going around the work environment. 

Invest in Unconscious Bias Training

Every business should invest in unconscious bias training. This will benefit not only the recruitment process but also the way in which employees interact with one another. Unconscious bias training can help spot stereotypes that employees and employers may or may not believe they have.

Quizlet: Does Unconscious Bias Affect Your Workplace?

If there is unconscious bias in the workplace, it needs to be determined as soon as possible. Answer the following unconscious bias quiz questions with yes or no to see if this problem affects your work environment. 

  1. Was a candidate ever given a job because they "clicked" with a recruiter? Perhaps because they went to the same school or have shared interests?
  2. Do you perceive a person as being a certain way, simply because they belong to one gender or another? For example, perceiving a lady as weak or in constant need of help just because she is a woman. 
  3. Were there any circumstances in which a person was not given a high-profile project simply because they had certain life circumstances? For example, a woman that just had a baby. 
  4. Do women often find it challenging to get promoted at your workplace, always seeming to lose to men, even though their work is appreciated?
  5. Do people of a certain age get a certain type of treatment simply because of their age? For example, a younger employer may not be taken seriously because they are not as advanced in age. 
  6. Is a person's skill or ability to perform a task judged simply because they have a certain weight or look? 
  7. Are people of a certain color finding it challenging to get promoted to a certain rank, always seemingly losing the promotion to a race majority?
If you answered "yes" to the questions above, then you might be dealing with bias in the workspace. Some tactics to tackle the bias should be addressed - otherwise, the unconscious bias will grow out of control and affect the decision-making process. 

The Bottom Line

Unconscious bias can cause quite a bit of damage to your business, and you might not even realize it's happening. This is why you need to ensure it's properly tackled and eliminated. Make sure both your staff and your employees get the proper training to become aware of their unconscious bias.