Implicit and Unconscious Bias

Meaningful diversity and inclusion initiatives are integral components of any successful modern organization. The benefits of recognizing the need to embrace and foster a diverse and inclusive work environment are also significant and range from increased innovation to creative problem solving and more. However, truly understanding diversity and inclusion, especially as it relates to recognizing improvement opportunities in that area, comes with the additional knowledge of the various nuances that play into the very issues that might hold organizations back.

One such issue relates to the role that unconscious bias plays in assessing the status of diversity and inclusion initiatives within an organization. Unconscious bias is a type of social bias that influences the way that individuals think and feel towards individuals and groups of people, which further influences the way that an individual might act towards those other individuals or groups of people. Unconscious bias is often guided by stereotypes formulated from schemas that we hold about the way a particular person or group of people might think, feel, or act, as well as what they might or should look like. Below are some common examples of unconscious bias that might appear in the workplace:

1. Affinity Bias: The tendency to show preference towards those individuals and things that are familiar or relatable to us. The brain prefers similar and relatable information.

2. Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE): The tendency to attribute personal successes and achievement to internal factors (e.g., knowledge, skills, abilities, and personality traits), while attributing the successes and achievements of others to external factors (e.g., luck). Conversely, individuals often attribute their own failures to external factors (e.g., extremely difficult task) while attributing the failures of others to internal factors (e.g., perceived laziness).

3. Beauty Bias: The tendency to believe that the way people look will give us information about their personality or life. For example, if someone looks well put together, we may tend to believe that they have a good job or are financially stable.

4. Conformity Bias: The tendency to adapt to the thoughts and behaviors of others rather than exercising our own free judgment. This often happens out of an unconscious need for acceptance.

5. Confirmation Bias: The tendency to look for information that may support our viewpoint and ignore anything that may contradict it. This often affects our ability to acquire information that may conflict with our viewpoints.

6. Contrast Bias: The tendency to ignore information when comparing two or more things/people, instead of focusing on their distinct qualities.

7. Gender Bias: The tendency to unconsciously show preference for one gender over another, which is usually driven by gender stereotypes.

8. Halo Effect: The tendency to focus on the positives attributes of a person while ignoring the negative.

9. Horn Effect: The tendency to focus on the negative attributes of a person while ignoring the positive.
Additionally, understanding and recognizing the above types of unconscious bias and how they might present themselves inside the workplace can give organizations an edge on the likes of preventative workplace discrimination and harassment issues, as well as to better foster an organizational culture that is self and socially aware. Collectively, these are all important aspects of any organization that wants to sustain a diverse and inclusive environment, as well.

Lastly, here are some final key strategies on how to recognize unconscious bias within the workplace:

  • Understanding the relationship between emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.
  • Addressing implicit bias in the workplace (e.g., learning & development opportunities).
  • Sharing helpful and meaningful resources related to diversity and inclusion.
  • Celebrating differences by hosting “lunch and learn” events.
  • Creating a safe place to discuss topics and issues related to diversity and inclusion within the workplace, such as with World Café events.


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    We would love to here some of the strategies that you use in your organization, as well!
    Until next time,

    Peagram Consulting
    Michael Althouse, M.A. & Oriana Cristiani
    Michael Althouse, M.A. Program Manager -Learning & Development

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