5 Examples of Unconscious Bias at Work and How to Fix Them

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There is no question that there is unconscious bias in the workplace. A Harvard study showed that employers who think they are unbiased are actually more likely to be! That’s because our brains are constantly trying to make quick judgments and assessments about people and situations. Unfortunately, this can often lead to injustice and discrimination in the workplace. This article will discuss five of the most common examples of unconscious bias and how to solve them!

Example #1 of unconscious bias

affinity bias: We all have a natural attraction to people who are similar to us in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, age and lifestyle. This unconscious bias can result in us hiring people who look alike and come from similar backgrounds in place of the most qualified candidates.

How to address it: HR managers must ensure a robust and fair hiring process for their hiring managers. Examples of some core requirements include job descriptions based on competency matrices relevant to the actual role, the use of a hiring panel to mitigate and review individual biases, and a quantitative assessment process of each candidate during the hiring process. When hiring for a new job, take a step back and assess your candidate pool. Make sure you consider a diverse group of qualified candidates and give everyone a fair chance.

Example #2

The Halo Effect: The halo effect occurs when we make assumptions about someone based on a positive trait. For example, if we think someone is intelligent, we’re more likely to think they’re competent and successful.

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How to address it: When trying to get to know someone, avoid assuming things about their other qualities. Understand her as a person first and make an effort to see the whole picture of her before making any judgments. Whether it’s colleagues or someone you report to, asking good, open questions about what they see as their strengths and areas for growth can make for a great conversation. Modeling this type of openness about your strengths or areas of growth can also provide opportunities for helpful feedback.

See also: 4 Ways Inclusive Leaders Reduce Ageism

Example #3

The Horn Effect: The horns effect is the opposite of the halo effect – it occurs when we make assumptions about someone based on a negative trait. For example, if we think someone is lazy, we’re more likely to think they’re unproductive and unreliable.

How to address it: Similar to the Halo Effect, avoid judging another person’s other qualities while getting to know them. Start by learning more about them as a person before comparing them to your prejudices. The horn and halo effects will likely add to the impact of the other distortions listed here. Suppose someone “glows” similar to you, perhaps based on a key aspect of identity you share. In this case, it is likely that affinity, attribution, and confirmation biases are only reinforced by their particular properties.

Example #4

The fundamental attribution error: The basic attribution error occurs when we attribute a person’s behavior to personal characteristics rather than external factors. For example, when we see someone making a mistake at work, we might think it’s because they’re incompetent, when in fact it could be because of several things beyond their control.

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How to address it: If you find yourself making assumptions about someone’s behavior, stop and consider what other factors might be at play. Is there something happening in your personal life that could affect your performance? Do they work with outdated equipment? By understanding the root cause of a person’s behavior, you can avoid making unfair judgments. And here’s a novel idea – ask her! Let’s say you’ve built a trusting working relationship and you feel like they’re not delivering like they used to. If so, you can call attention to that inconsistency and see if something else is contributing.

Example #5

confirmation bias: Confirmation bias is when we pay more attention to information that confirms our existing beliefs and ignore information that contradicts them. For example, if we believe that all men are better at math than women, we are more likely to notice and remember examples that support that belief, while discarding or forgetting counter-examples.

How to address it: When you start to form an opinion about someone, stop and consider what evidence you have. Have you paid attention to information that supports your beliefs or have you ignored information that contradicts them? Trying to be more objective and open-minded can help you avoid confirmation bias. You might also consider having a confirmation bias buddy, someone you can report your experience of bias to so they can help you redefine the biases you may be experiencing. This is a critical role that Allies can play for others from groups in the workplace with the most power and privilege.

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Unconscious biases can have a significant impact on the workplace. By being aware of how it can manifest, we can ensure that everyone gets a fair chance and that unconscious bias doesn’t play a role in our decisions. In what ways have you observed unconscious biases in your workplace? Share your experiences in the comments below.

See also: How Survivorship Bias Distorts Our View of Successful Entrepreneurs

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