What is Unconscious Bias in the Workplace?

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Unconscious Bias in the Workplace
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What is Unconscious Bias in the Workplace?

Unconscious bias in the workplace refers to the unintended humiliation or prejudices that occur in people’s minds at an unconscious level causing them to hamper the reputation of subjected individuals or groups.


It is a natural phenomenon that triggers the thoughts of individuals or groups due to pre-conceived ingrained societal stereotypes, mental shortcuts or cultural conditioning they are exposed to in primitive ages.


It often influences the attitude, perception and behaviour of employees towards certain subjected individual or groups in an adverse way. The causes of unconscious biases occurs usually due to entrenched societal stereotypes, personal life experiences, cultural conditioning, and media influences.


It is processed without being consciously aware, so if not tackled responsibly, unconscious biases can lead to unfair treatment, discrimination, and perpetuated inequalities which will affect organizational prosperity.



What are the Reasons that Cause Unconscious Bias in the Workplace?

The reason causing unconscious biases are many but the most compelling cause is ‘ingrained stereotypes’ that are imprinted in the subconscious mind of the general public for which they have quick reflexes towards individuals or groups associated with their stereotyped beliefs.


Let us take an insight into a few more causes apart from societal stereotypes which include the following:

  • Socialization or Cultural Conditioning: This signifies causes that are formed due to the societal norms that run through family, education, media, and social interactions. For example, According to certain societal trite individuals or groups of certain caste or traits are considered lazy or non-rational even though they are intellects in their field.
  • Gender Roles Stereotype
  • Beauty Standards Myths
  • Linguistic Biases
  • Accent Biases
  • Biases Based on Ethnicity and Culture
  • Recency Bias: This occurs due to heavy reliance on recent events than considering the past or historical events.


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Types of Unconscious Biases in the Workplace

After knowing about the reasons that cause unconscious biases, let us know what are the types of unconscious biases that prevails in the business administration of an organization.


1. Attribution Bias

Attribution bias refers to the cognitive biases that occur due to the tendency of individuals to attribute reasons or make judgments on others or themselves in a biased way. It is basically the interpretation of people on certain events as per their cognitive thoughts which are biased or entrenched in stereotypical assumptions based on preconceived notions.


➔ Example of Attribution Bias

Let’s say a team is working on a project and they face a setback in meeting the deadline on time. The manager blames a specific subordinate for the entire fault ignoring the fact that, the setback might have been a result of frequent client alterations in the requirement and limited or insufficient resource constraints that might have caused the missed deadline issue.


Here, the manager reprimanded or undervalued a particular team member other than considering the broader context of the situation hence bias occurs.


In such kinds of biases, people usually give reason to the events occurring based on their thoughts which are embedded in received ideas from cultural conditioning, prevailing surrounding, or self-assumptions (own biases) which are adverse in nature.


2. Status Quo Bias

These kinds of biases are the cognitive biases that occur due to reluctance to change due to comfort in prevailing situations.


The term “status quo” refers to the existing state or condition, and the bias arises from a variety of psychological factors. These include familiarity, comfort, risk aversion, and a preference for stability.


➔ Example of Status Quo Bias

An organization using certain software for years becomes reluctant to adapt to new technology or software irrespective of advancements in the latter one. This occurs due to familiarity with the former software even though it has limitations and they develop a workaround to address its shortcomings.


3. Ageism Bias

Age bias refers to the discriminatory attitude directed towards individuals or groups of younger or older generations. These are the prejudices formed on the basis of age or age-related factors.


➔ Example of Ageism Bias

Younger employees in the workplace are considered immature and knowledge deprived irrespective of their high intellectual quotient.


4. Affinity Bias

Affinity biases refer to the biases that are the result of the tendency of individuals or certain groups to have a preference for people with similar traits, tastes, values, interests, backgrounds, or physical appearance.


It is a subconscious bias that influences how you interpret, perceive, interact and make judgments about others. It can also be called similarity bias.


➔ Example of Affinity Bias

Out of the diverse groups in the workplace, individuals or groups with the same interest and passion vibes better together than with others and forms irrelevant judgement on individuals or groups with contradictory background or interests.


5. Beauty Bias

Beauty bias also known as appearance bias or lookism refers to the tendency of favoring or prioritizing physically attractive people as per the stereotypical standards of societal notion of beauty.


➔ Example of Beauty Bias

There are 2 people namely ‘X and ‘Y’ working on the same project, X, is highly qualified with proficiency, expertise, and noteworthy skills but discrepant with the typical societal standards of beauty whereas ‘Y’ is conventionally attractive with average knowledge and skills. Despite having more expertise ‘X’ failed to get the opportunity of ‘client facing’ and ‘Y’ grabs it due to beauty bias preference.


6. Confirmation Bias

It is the tendency of people to selectively seek or interpret those information that aligns with their beliefs (personal, political, religious, or other), and hypothesis while disregarding information that contradicts their thoughts. This is a disposition to see what you want to see and not anything other than that.


➔ Example of Confirmation Bias

If while the interview and recruitment process, the hiring manager or hiring team selects the profile of those whose religious beliefs match theirs ignoring the others with the same proficiency and skills but different beliefs then confirmation bias occurs.


7. Conformity Bias

It is the tendency of people to adopt the beliefs or behaviors of a group or majority due to dominant discourses in the structure of the society even when their own beliefs and values don’t align with them. It is a consequence of peer pressure, societal pressure, a desire for social acceptance, and fear of social marginalization.


8. Horns Effect

It is a negative first impression that leads to treating the employee unfavorably irrespective of other qualities or traits. The horns effect is also known as the “devil effect” or “negative halo effect.


➔ Example of Horns Effect

If an employee fumbles a few words or forgets basic points in the presentation, then a negative effect or a negative impact is created in the perception of decision-makers even though the presentation goes well in terms of other major aspects.


9. Anchor Bias

Anchor bias, also known as focalism, is a cognitive bias in the human brain in which the initial part ‘Anchor’ is significantly considered while decision-making. There is heavy reliance on the former part of the information. The initial anchor is considered the starting point for thinking.


➔ Example of Anchor Bias

If the manager considers the first few initial months of employees’ performance which are usually the probation or training period, during appraisal rather than considering the whole year’s performance, anchor bias occurs.


10. Halo Effect

It occurs when the impression of the individual or organization is influenced by the evaluation of one specific positive trait or attribute.


➔ Example of Halo Effect

If an employee is charismatic and friendly then he/she is perceived as competent, smart hardworking, and highly skilled by others.


11. Authority Bias

The tendency of people to attribute greater accuracy, and credibility to a person in a significant powerful position is authority bias.


➔ Example of Authority Bias

People are more inclined to trust and follow the directions of those in positions of authority, even when other evidence or information may suggest otherwise.


12. Overconfidence Bias

These kinds of biases occur when people have an unwarranted level of confidence in their abilities, knowledge, and skills. It ultimately results in underestimating the uncertainties that might arise due to overconfident beliefs in their abilities and skills.


13. Racial Bias

These kinds of biases are forms of prejudices that distinguish the ethnicity, caste, and colour of an individual or group based on stereotypical cultural conditioning or self-presumed thoughts, own opinions, mental shortcuts, or peer pressure impact.


➔ Example of Racial Bias

Biases against ‘Black People’ in workplaces.


14. Gender Bias

Discrimination or unequal treatment based on the gender or sex of individuals is called gender bias.


➔ Example of Gender Bias

Unequal treatment towards job applicants specifically female candidates regarding certain tasks which are stereotyped to be performed by male employees in workplaces causes gender bias.


A few other examples include the gender pay gap, one gender bias over others in the workplace, and more.


15. Other Biases

Apart from the above-mentioned biases, there are a few other unconscious biases in the workplace that occurs due to difference in physical appearance or linguistic dissimilarities.


India is a country of diversity so it is obvious to have diverse teams and a diverse workforce (including diversified candidate pool, minority groups and more) which forms a diverse workplace. It makes the fact more prone to implicit biases some of its kinds are as follows:

  • Height Bias
  • Name Bias
  • Accent Bias and more.


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How Does Unconscious Bias Impact the Workplace?

Unconscious bias in the workplace has a severe impact on the workplace which significantly affects the workflow in an organization. some of which are listed below:

  • Unconscious bias in the workplace affects the ‘Hiring Process’ as it prevents the finest from being selected due to stereotypical introspection
  • Unconscious bias affects the ‘Mental Health’ of employees due to deprivation of recognition and rewards to the deserving, unconscious humiliation, or initializing internal conflicts that affect the mental health of employees to paramount.
  • Decreases the ‘Efficiency’ of employees due to mental stress, uncomfortable work environment, and undervalued recognition at the workplace.
  • Unconscious bias ‘Affects the team dynamics’ leading to the formation of homogenous groups with distinctive toxic ideologies which affects the work culture of the organization.
  • Unconscious bias in the workplace causes ‘Discrimination’ which is not only illegal but also is ‘not favorable for the goodwill ‘ of the company hence putting the organization’s image at stake and putting it in legal trouble.
  • Unconscious bias in the workplace leads to the ‘loss of best talents’ which increases the ‘Employee turnover rate’ hence affecting the company’s budget as well as finance to the maximum.



What can HR Leaders do to Address Unconscious Bias in the Workplace?

Though not entirely but there are certain creative solutions or ways that HR leaders or hiring managers can do to address unconscious bias in the workplace. Some of them may include:

  • Accept unconscious bias exists and question assumptions
  • Effective training sessions or programs to combat unconscious bias teach employees about the work culture to be followed and also aware them of the stringent actions or norms for discrimination in the workplace.
  • Leading through change: Creating clarity and building trust for initiating open communication that facilitates employees to complain, in case of humiliation caused due to unconscious bias in the workplace.
  • Unconscious bias training to aware employees of the biases that might cause harm to them as well as peers working along.
  • Thorough and fair performance reviews can help tackle unconscious bias as it would be a consequence of honest reviews and not stereotypical ramifications.
  • So, those are a few ways that would help eliminate unconscious bias though not entirely as unconscious bias is an ingrained belief of people which are the result of cultural conditioning. So, it is essential to raise awareness among employees in the workplace against unconscious bias which would help to combat unconscious bias in the workplace.


Tips & Tricks to Combat Unconscious Bias in the Workplace?

➔ Tips to Avoid Attribution Bias

To avoid attribution bias it is important to:

  • Actively gather information before making judgments or vital decisions.
  • Engage in open and non-judgmental communications to get a fair view of the situation.
  • Consider multiple explanations
  • Cultivate Learning Mindset


➔ Tips to Avoid Ageism Bias

To avoid Ageism bias in the workplace, you need to:

  • Foster awareness
  • Equal Treatment opportunities
  • Lead by Example
  • Challenge Stereotypes


➔ Tips to Avoid Affinity Bias

Tips to avoid affinity bias in the workplace include:

  • Fostering an inclusive or cross-work culture
  • Framing internal policies that prohibit affinity bias
  • Seeking diverse perspectives for decision-making.


➔ Tips to Avoid Beauty Bias

  • Prioritize knowledge and skills over beauty
  • Provide resources to Enhance awareness among employees
  • Implement a blind hiring process where identifying information such as photos is removed.


➔ Tips to Avoid Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias can be avoided by:

  • Embrace cognitive Diversity
  • Encourage devil’s advocate- encourage others to challenge your ideas for critical skills analysis
  • Consider alternative explanations that contradict your beliefs.


➔ Tips to Avoid the Horns Effect

  • Challenge initial impressions
  • Observe multiple instances


➔ Tips to Avoid Conformity Bias

  • Enhance Independent Thinking
  • Cultivate self-awareness
  • Engage in critical cognitive analysis


➔ Tips to Avoid Anchor Bias

  • Consider the entire decision making frameworks
  • Be mindful in anchoring
  • Pursue multiple perspective approaches


➔ Tips to Avoid the Halo Effect

  • Minute consistent observance over time
  • Critical Analysis of every fact.


➔ Tips to Avoid Recency Bias

  • Gather comprehensive information
  • Maintain historical context


➔ Tips to Avoid Overconfidence Bias

  • Initiate self-assessment
  • Seek other’s suggestions and advice


➔ Tips to Avoid Other Bias

  • Initiate positive responses to every situation
  • Be a listener
  • Equal treatment for all employees
  • Equate diverse resources and direct reports



Is Unconscious Bias in the Workplace Illegal in India?

In recent times, there is no law against unconscious bias in the workplace in India, yet according to Article 15 of the Indian Constitution, no one shall be subjected on the basis of religion, caste, race, sex, or place of birth.


It is a punishable offense to be involved in discriminatory offense towards individuals or groups based on their appearances and so.


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In the end, addressing the implicit bias or unconscious bias in the workplace requires collective commitment, the raising of awareness, and building a moral responsibility towards protecting the dignity of every employees in the workplace.


Framing internal policies against the biases and keeping the communication channel open to all employees by would also help to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace.


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