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How to Address Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

New and evolving innovations are adopting artificial intelligence (AI), facial recognition, and machine learning. When evaluating these technologies, researchers found something interesting. The programs and devices were showing bias based on race and gender. They would penalize company applicants who came from women's colleges, produce facial analysis errors based on race and gender, and mislabel certain racial groups at higher levels than other groups. The researchers believed that the problem came from the program data, not the algorithm, by workers who held unconscious bias toward those groups.

What Is Unconscious Bias in the Workplace?

Unconscious bias involves holding ingrained attitudes and stereotypes that a person is unaware of. This bias is so ingrained that a person may not even know they are practicing it and may even be against it subconsciously. However, this implicit bias can control our actions, decisions, and how we understand society and other people. While we don't intend to be discriminatory, unconscious bias can lead to harm toward other groups.

Types of Unconscious Biases

There are several different types of unconscious bias. While some are familiar to most people, such as affinity bias, where a person prefers those with the same viewpoints or qualities, others are less known, such as the horn and halo effect.

Gender Bias

Gender bias is when we unintentionally associate a stereotype based on a person's gender. Often, gender bias forms from traditions, culture, values, or social norms and sticks with us into adulthood. Deep-seated gender bias usually places men and women in specific societal roles where men receive more favorable outcomes than women.


Ageism involves discriminating against people who are of a certain age. While ageism can happen to anyone, it is often more prevalent toward older people, as roughly 60 percent of workers who were 45 years of age or older had experienced this type of bias during recruitment, hiring, and retaining job positions based on an AARP study.

Name Bias

Name bias is another type of stereotype that is common during the hiring process. It usually involves the tendency to make discriminatory assumptions based on the name in an application. Interviewers often consider Anglo-sounding names more desirable and qualified for positions than those that are not and may throw away applications with non-Anglo names.

Beauty Bias

Beauty bias is based on a person's appearance and can affect if a person is hired or shown favoritism. This implicit bias may come from a manager who only hires people they perceive as more attractive than others based on personal opinions and views.

Halo and Horn Effect

The halo and horn effects have similar outcomes when it comes to unconscious bias in the workplace. The halo effect is when someone views another by such a strongly positive trait that it overpowers their thinking, to the point where they cannot see any negative characteristics. The horn effect is the opposite, where the person will form negative judgments based on one badly perceived trait that clouds their ability to see any positive attribute the other person may have.

Confirmation Bias and Decision-Making

Confirmation bias involves actively seeking out information that further supports a viewpoint or expectation. It can involve cherry-picking specific pieces of information as this information can validate certain talking points. Confirmation bias can influence a person's decision-making abilities in a negative and detrimental light.

Conformity Bias in Group Settings

Conformity bias involves a person changing their opinion or behavior so that it matches the opinion or behaviors of the group they may be in, even though they may internally hold an opposing viewpoint. Similar to groupthink, conformity bias often occurs due to peer pressure and wanting to fit in or be accepted by a group while giving up our own way of thinking.

Why Addressing Unconscious Bias Is Important

Unconscious bias can hinder creativity, innovation, and camaraderie in a workplace environment. Instead, addressing unconscious bias can lead to a more fair and inclusive environment for everyone. It can foster diversity in the workplace, allowing people of differing viewpoints to have a voice and opinion that can help with completing tasks and increasing company growth. You can enhance team dynamics as you have a larger pool of ideas to glean information from. When we eliminate biases, we can improve decision-making processes that lead to more effective strategies because internal stereotypes will no longer hold you back from considering viewpoints and ideas from others.

When Do Unconscious Biases Occur Most?

Unconscious biases can occur anywhere in the workplace. They may often be seen in how we word job specifications and how an interviewer hires an applicant. Other examples of unconscious bias in the workplace include prejudice toward employees, where some workers are overlooked for promotions by management, who will instead hire workers that are unfit for the job. Yet, these workers somehow fit the manager's perceived opinions as the right choice. Other times, a workplace culture involving conformity bias may promote bullying of certain workers based on gender or race until that person quits.

Addressing Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

The first step to addressing unconscious bias is to identify the signs within ourselves and others, then, you need to overcome the bias by actively changing behavior patterns. You want to break stereotypes by using facts and available information to challenge deep-rooted assumptions.

Another method is to embrace diversity and inclusion initiatives when hiring and recruiting applicants. This may entail establishing standard policies and procedures for the hiring process, such as:

  • Name-blind CV and resume reviews
  • Standardized assignments that assess candidate capabilities relevant to the role
  • Bringing more diverse employees onto interview committees
  • Caution about relying too heavily on referral candidates
  • Unconscious bias training for human resources (HR) staff

A diverse workplace can allow workers to interact and understand one another, which can help them also identify and lessen implicit biases. Providing development opportunities through mentorship and training programs, as well as providing the chance to talk about this behavior with invited guests and speakers, can help boost more inclusive growth and acceptance.

Keep in mind that these tips are by no means an exhaustive list but rather a place to begin addressing unconscious bias on an individual level. Tackling unconscious bias will be a continuous process throughout the life of a company. Each new hire may bring in new biases that will need to be addressed. Offering training and mentorship while addressing biases as they emerge will allow workers to express themselves in a safe environment that can be beneficial to everyone.

Explore Diverse Leadership with Spelman College

Understanding and addressing unconscious biases is one part of creating a diverse and inclusive workplace.  Spelman College offers a Certificate in Diverse Leadership for managers and leaders interested in honing these skills. The virtual program is an online format for adult learners to develop strategies that can improve workplace interactions. Contact Spelman to learn more about this exciting program.