Is Unconscious Bias Hurting your Organization?

Without considering the harm unconscious bias is causing your organization, you will never know if you risk falling behind in rapidly diversifying workplaces. Recent research shows that companies who are less focused on diversity consistently experience problems with innovation and productivity.

Illustration of four professionals holding masks, representing unconscious bias.

According to studies, more than 36 percent of CEOs, military generals, admirals and U.S. presidents are over six feet two inches tall, showing that an inch of height is worth $790 per year in salary. But why has this pattern developed, and what can we do about it?

It is important to recognize that there are two types of bias which influence how we interact with the world. The first type of bias is called conscious bias and it is based on influences that we are already aware of. This kind of bias would involve, for example, purposely avoiding someone because of their race, gender, or creed.

The second type, unconscious bias, is an automatic process which occurs on a subconscious level. An example of this would be hiring tall males for leadership roles because you believe tall men make better leaders. Biases are completely healthy psychological responses and only become a problem when they begin to negatively affect those you interact with.

Researchers have been studying unconscious bias for decades and emphasize that people’s tendency to be suspicious of others who are unlike them in obvious ways most likely developed in early ancestry, when humans had to compete against one another for precious resources such as water, food, and safety. Therefore, we know that unconscious bias is tied to essential but outdated biological processes.

Types of Unconscious Bias

There are several different types of unconscious bias and they affect the way you interact with others in the workplace. Unconscious bias can hinder productivity by causing problems to workplace culture, diversity, and employee development. In order to understand how unconscious bias may be affecting your workplace environment, let’s review a few different types of biases:

  • Confirmation Bias– occurs when you want something to be true based on desires or beliefs. Think of this as wishful thinking. If you make a judgment about a client, co-worker, or candidate, you may find yourself unconsciously looking for evidence to back up your judgments. Being aware of this type of bias can help you to fight its negative effects. It comes up often during recruitment and job advancement
  • Halo Effect– takes place when first impressions affect the ongoing perception of an individual as a whole. For example, you may assume an attractive individual is interesting and smart. This can affect leadership’s treatment of employees in performance reviews or when giving promotions and can lead to preferential treatment. The negative expression of this is often called the Horns Effect (i.e. when a negative first impression leads to poor treatment of that individual)
  • Attribution Bias– occurs when you make a judgment about someone based on their accomplishments and accolades. People tend to assume that someone else’s lack of accomplishments is a direct indicator of their personality faults. This comes up frequently in areas of recruitment
  • Affinity Bias– occurs when the feeling of having a connection with someone influences how you perceive them. When you interact with someone you share similarities with, you may perceive them in a more favorable light. This often comes up in interviews where candidates who share something in common with an interviewer may be offered the job over someone ultimately more qualified

How Unconscious Bias Impacts Onboarding and Advancement

A Yale University Study revealed that both male and female scientists were more likely to hire men, considering them more competent than women, and were willing to pay them $4,000 more than women.

Before you panic, understand that everyone has unconscious bias. However, it is important to be aware of how it affects the way you treat others, particularly in the workplace. Most people who are acting on their unconscious biases are not even aware that they are doing so.

Factors that are negatively impacted by unconscious bias include:

  • Hiring – how you perceive someone based on race, gender, age, appearance, or other reasons can affect whether or not they are hired regardless of their skills and qualifications
  • Promotions – someone underqualified may receive a promotion rather than a more qualified candidate simply because you perceive them as more likeable or trustworthy due to your unconscious biases
  • Creativity and Innovation – both of these factors are limited in a workplace with unchecked unconscious biases
  • Diversity – an organization’s diversity and inclusion efforts may be stifled unknowingly because leaders have not examined the possibility of unconscious biases affecting the workplace

There are several ways in which your company can engage in wider inclusivity and unconscious bias efforts such as:

  • Bring Diversity into Your Hiring Decisions– when you advertise your employment opportunities, are you staying neutral? It’s important to remove age, gender and ethnicity requirements as these can be discriminatory and can hinder your decision-making process, without you realizing it
  • Set Diversity Goals– you can ask your team through company-wide surveys or e-mails, a few diversity specific questions. For example, do your employees feel that your organization is a safe and inclusive environment to work in? If not, what are some goals you can set to improve this? Set diversity goals such as online training, hiring more diverse candidates, and using more diverse and inclusive language in the workplace. Be sure to set a deadline for all your diversity goals
  • Challenge Your Decision Making– start thinking outside of the box and be aware of your own unconscious biases. Do you believe all people with tattoos are rebellious? Do you believe tall people make better leaders? Challenge your biases and ask yourself why you are hiring your next new employee or handing out your next promotion
  • Online Trainingonline training is a great way to get everyone on the same page. With an issue as pressing as unconscious bias, it is a good idea to make sure that your work group is getting the same key information. Organizing required training alongside group discussions will allow employees to be informed and poised to take strategic and effective action moving forward

How Unconscious Bias Hinders Workplace Productivity

A recent study revealed that working with biased managers, creates decreased work performance in employees. The study found that biased managers believed minority workers are worse employees, thus resulting in lower productivity.

The study also revealed that minority workers who are scheduled to work with biased managers are much more likely to be absent and less likely to stay late.

It is important to make sure your employees do not feel discriminated against not only for the sake of your employees, but the sake of your organization. Unconscious bias can hinder this process and result in a high turnover rate, lower productivity and less employee engagement.

Ask yourself the following: is unconscious bias playing out in your workplace? Do you have a minority worker who’s been a loyal employee for years that deserves a raise? Are all your managers men? Here are some steps you can take to overcome unconscious bias in your organization:

Step One:   is simply to be aware that such biases exist in everyone. It is important to question yourself and others and determine if your opinions are based on unconscious bias

Step Two: is to embrace the idea of unconscious bias, regardless of how uncomfortable it may be. It may feel uneasy to acknowledge if you and your co-workers have an unconscious belief that men are harder working than women. But that does not make you immoral. Unconscious biases are everywhere. Through parental and societal conditioning we are subconsciously taught at a very young age how to hold unconscious beliefs.

Step Three: is to watch your language. Avoid phrases that can be seen as discriminatory or offensive to others.

Step Four: is to hold everyone accountable. Look at how people are hired, how work is assigned, performance evaluations, and how compensation is determined. Check for unconscious biases throughout these processes and hold your team accountable for any biases throughout these procedures

Step Five: is to remain persistent and make a continual effort to avoid any and all unconscious bias. You may want to encourage your team to make daily efforts to listen to others’ viewpoints. Try engaging with people who you do not usually engage with and experience the value of gaining insight into different perspectives

From Awareness to Action

Being aware of how unconscious biases affects your workplace is the first step in the right direction to overcoming it. It’s imperative to keep your team informed, accountable and unbiased in order to protect your organization. Get started with KnowledgeCity’s online course designed to help your team identify and overcome unconscious bias today.

Previous Post
Next Post
Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Join 80,000+ Fellow HR Professionals. Get expert recruiting and training tips straight
to your inbox, and become a better HR manager.

Select which topics to subscribe to: