Biases are learned beliefs or assumptions. They are our opinions about people's competence, abilities, knowledge, or behaviour, which may or may not be true. Scientifically speaking, biases have a purpose: they help us to quicken our decision-making by processing vast bits of information every second. But they can be detrimental too.
Biases are called unconscious or implicit because they are hidden and not our coherent thoughts. Our behaviour is affected by our unconscious biases, as they are deeply ingrained. Most of them are learned during our early stages of development or acquired from our interactions with the world.
However, holding and acting on these unconscious biases can sometimes have bad outcomes at work. Here’s how:
Unconscious Biases in the Workplace
Right from the hiring stage to the time of an employee’s retirement, unconscious biases can affect every aspect of the employee experience.
Not managing unconscious bias properly can disrupt a company’s culture, employee satisfaction and team dynamics.
Hence, let’s look at some of the most common unconscious biases in the workplace, and see how they affect us.
Types and Examples of Unconscious Bias in the Workplace
- Unconscious bias example 1: Gender bias
This is one of the most commonly prevalent unconscious biases in the workplace. Also called sexism, this happens when we associate some stereotypes with a particular gender’s competencies, abilities or qualifications.
A global issue frequently spoken about is the pay gap that exists between men and women with the same skills in any given industry. The idea that women aren’t as committed to their jobs, or as tough, as men are often at the root of this bias. This is seen even today in domains such as engineering, which are dominated by men.
Gender bias affects pay scales, hiring processes, and even day-to-day interactions within the workplace. It also stunts growth in an organisation and closes opportunities for career advancements. Showing preference or choosing one person over the other based on their gender also leads to huge gender disparity in industries.
2. Unconscious bias example 2: Age bias or ageism
Ageism is another unconscious bias that we often see in workplaces. It is a preconceived notion that persons above a certain age are not as competent as their junior counterparts and therefore less efficient. This leads to discrimination.
Not promoting an older employee because they are closer to their retirement than a younger employee is an unconscious bias.
Discriminating against people based on their age can affect the workplace in many ways. Not only does it create a trend of higher turnover due to fear of being fired, but also leads to a lack of trust in leaders and the organisation.
Companies discriminating against people based on their age also lose out on experience and expertise that come with being in an industry for decades.
3. Unconscious bias example 3: Confirmation bias
Confirmation bias refers to our tendency of cherry-picking statements or proof to support our beliefs or views. It can be detrimental in many situations, especially in the workplace when crucial decisions are made.
When looking for data to support a hypothesis during market research, employees with confirmation bias will be more inclined to read resources that support their ideas rather than those opposing it. This could create biased research, and affect marketing plans and strategies.
Seeking information that validates our beliefs or expectations leads to us ignoring opposing views. To eradicate these issues, one must actively seek information that challenges one’s assumptions and take multiple perspectives before arriving at a decision.
4. Unconscious bias example 4: Conformity bias
One of the most common unconscious biases occurring in groups is conformity bias. It refers to our tendency to change our beliefs or behaviours to match that of our colleagues or group-mates. We may confirm with others’ opinions even if they do not reflect our choices or preferences.
When hiring a new candidate, a recruiter believes the prospect may not fit in well with the company’s culture, whereas the other two recruiters feel otherwise. To reduce conflict, the first recruiter decides to change his opinion and hires the candidate.
This type of unconscious bias can affect objectivity and lower creativity in the workplace. Because of our need to conform with the group, we may negate our unique ideas or new perspectives, which in the long run affects growth.
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5. Unconscious bias example 5: Authority bias
Authority bias refers to our tendency to attribute greater trust and accuracy in the opinion of those in power. This faith in their opinion can also be irrational.
Following digital marketing strategies and plans created by a leader who has no experience in the field of digital marketing – despite their years of experience in traditional marketing – can jeopardise the initiative.
Blindly trusting those in authority or leadership positions with knowledge and experience may not always be beneficial. Objectivity in thinking even when following orders or directions can save you from poor decisions. To reduce the risks, one must do one’s own research and seek help from others before making a decision that is outside the expertise of your leader.
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How to Manage Unconscious Workplace Biases
The first step to handling unconscious bias in the workplace is by identifying the biases that exist.
Educate employees about biases and stereotyping: Educate your employees about the different kinds of biases and how they can stay mindful of their biases within and outside the workplace. Bring in experts who can speak to your people about this, and also publish newsletters or blogs on these topics.
Encourage open communication about unconscious biases: When you encourage your employees, and leaders to have open discussions about biases and stereotypes, it brings forward issues that affect the victim of biases. This further creates awareness and inculcates trust among employees.
Set clear criteria: Right from hiring to appraisals, set criteria for qualifications and performance. This eliminates ambiguity and reduces the chances of bias when hiring or giving out promotions to employees. In order to avoid biases on the basis of race, gender, or age, you can also implement blind evaluations, where candidates are considered based on their achievements and performances.
Seek feedback: Create anonymous feedback forms where employees can give feedback to improve functions in the workplace. Reach out to former employees to understand if they have had any experience with discrimination due to biases and the steps that were taken to resolve those issues.
Staying ignorant about how our perceptions affect us and others keeps us from growing as individuals. In this blog, we understood what biases are, with some unconscious bias examples, and learned how to manage biases in the workplace. We hope that this article will help you create a better workplace culture and solve these critical issues.
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