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May 26th, 2021 · 5 min read

How to mitigate unconscious bias in the workplace

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What is unconscious bias in the workplace?

Implicit vs. explicit bias

Examples of unconscious bias in the workplace

  • Gender bias is the preferential treatment of men over women. Although this type of bias is at the forefront of discussions around DEI, it’s still prevalent among today’s workforce — especially when looking at the lack of gender diversity in leadership positions.
  • Racial bias is the preferential treatment of one race over another; overwhelmingly white individuals over Black, Indigenous, and other people over color (BIPOC). Resumes with African, Asian or Latinx names are less likely to receive callbacks for job interviews.
  • Age bias is the specific negative treatment or ideation of people based on their age. This is usually experienced by older individuals: 58 percent of workers report experiencing incidents of ageism after they turn 50.
  • The halo effect is the preferential treatment of another individual formed from a single impression based on a characteristic. People tend to put a “halo” on others that they deem to be impressive. This could result from learning that someone attended a prestigious university or simply be based on the way they’re dressed.

How unconscious bias affects the workplace

  • Bias in hiring significantly limits access to top talent. And although you’ve likely already carefully vetted your recruitment and hiring processes for bias, it’s important to revisit them periodically. This ensures that your diversity recruitment strategy evolves and your hiring staff is up-to-speed on best practices.
  • A homogenous culture within an organization can be a major detriment to innovative thinking and ideation.
  • If not addressed, unconscious biases may become explicit in homogenous work cultures. Mistreatment of marginalized employees may escalate to bullying or other forms of workplace harassment.
  • Workers who feel alienated or unsafe due to unconscious bias in the workplace are less likely to want to stay with your company. This can lead to high levels of turnover and a negative employer brand reputation.
  • Employees who feel alienated or unsafe at work are significantly less engaged at work. This affects both productivity and the quality of the overall company culture and morale.

How to reduce and prevent unconscious bias at work

  1. Revise the language in your job descriptions to ensure that they’re inclusive.
    The language used in your job descriptions might unintentionally discourage diverse candidates from applying for positions. For example, terms such as “champion” can be seen as having masculine qualities and may make women think that this job isn’t for them. You can attract a wider pool of talent by eliminating gendered language from your job listings.
  2. Prioritize employee education.
    During the hiring process, consider candidates who may not have had access to quality education but possess the right skills, aptitude or potential for the job. You can then invest in their ongoing growth and provide them with the educational opportunities to maximize their relevant skills.
  3. Form inclusive hiring teams.
    Homogenous hiring teams are more likely to hire new employees who look, act and think like them. However, a diverse hiring team will be more likely to hire diverse employees and can be trained to form decisions based on skill rather than background, gender or social standing.
  4. Hold team members accountable.
    When there are instances of unconscious bias among employees, it’s critical to have processes built in place to intervene. Most commonly, organizations leverage training programs that are specifically designed to address unconscious bias as a way to raise awareness. Although this solution can be effective at educating staff, it should be just one part of a greater strategy to mitigate bias.

Take your DEI initiatives further by addressing unconscious bias

You can address talent development challenges