What are Unconscious Biases and How to Overcome Them at Work

Unconscious biases can be incredibly damaging. This article highlights how to identify unconscious biases at work and how to easily overcome them.

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A good leader has integrity, courage, empathy, self-awareness, and shows respect and gratitude towards their team. Impartial leaders are respected that much more because their unbiased attitude fosters a working environment of equal opportunity, which helps employees feel heard and valued. This translates into a much more productive and happier team with lower turnover rates – after all, feeling disrespected or discriminated against at work are two top reasons why employees leave.

No one wants to work in a toxic environment, but biassed leaders and managers are often the weak spot where toxicity begins to seep in. This article highlights how to identify unconscious bias, the most common types at work and how to easily overcome them.

How to Identify Unconscious Biases

Cognitive biases are like keyboard shortcuts for the brain, saving time and energy on making decisions. However, shortcuts that may compromise on quality are unsustainable and best avoided.

Defined by Imperial College London;

“Unconscious (or implicit) bias is a term that describes the associations we hold, outside our conscious awareness and control. Unconscious bias affects everyone. Unconscious bias is triggered by our brain automatically making quick judgments and assessments.”

Formed outside our own conscious awareness, unfortunately we all hold unconscious biases about certain social and identity groups of people. It's human nature. The first step to eliminating unconscious biases at work is to learn how to identify them. Pinpoint unconscious biases by:

1. Looking for Trends in Your HR Data

Analyse hiring and promoting decision patterns and look for trends where certain groups have been unfairly represented or restricted from certain roles.

2. Take an Online Test

The Implicit Association Test (IAT) reveals any personal biases by measuring the speed of your responses.

3. Ask For Feedback From Your Workforce

Include questions like do they feel they're treated fairly and is there enough diversity within the company?

Increased competition across all markets means many HR strategies could use a refresh and addressing unconscious biases is a crucial area for improvement to focus on. Diversity and inclusion are vital for success, especially within the insurance and tech industries. So, before even thinking about insurance lead generation ideas to bring new life to your sales process, digest and understand these seven types of unconscious biases to revive your business health from within.

7 Types of Unconscious Biases Impacting the Workplace

1. Gender Bias

What Is It? Favouritism or prejudice towards a particular gender.
Examples? Management making "office housework" a task for women only. A hiring team disregards a woman for a high-profile project, as they believe it's too much responsibility to take on after recently coming back from maternity leave.
Impact? Fewer leadership opportunities and career prospects for women. Pay gaps. Stereotypes. Higher turnover rates.

2. Racial Bias

What Is It? Unreasoned judgement and prejudice based solely on someone's race.
Examples? Treating a white employee more favourably than a black employee in an internal dispute. Rules or policies set that put employees from certain racial, ethnic or national groups at a disadvantage.
Impact? Negative effect on screening and selection decisions. Lack of diversity. Isolation. Employee mental health issues.

3. Confirmation Bias

What Is It? To only seek out information that supports one viewpoint or idea and ignoring information that challenges your beliefs.
Examples? Favouring employees that agree with you. Phrasing questions in interviews or feedback surveys that first suggest an opinion and then ask the employee to support it.
Impact? Influences and skews information interpretation. Forms biassed impressions of others. Miscommunication. Conflict.

4. Halo Effect Bias

What Is It? Inadvertently putting people on a pedestal based on a single quality or trait.
Examples? Associating positive traits with an individual who went to a prestigious university. Assuming an employee can perform in other unrelated areas because they excel in one particular area.
Impact? Poor recruitment choices. Misleads leaders to make unfair or inappropriate decisions.

5. Affinity Bias

What Is It? Favouritism for those with similar backgrounds, interests, experiences and/or looks.
Examples? Hiring unqualified candidates. Excluding those who act or look different.
Impact? Employees feel unheard and undervalued. Low morale. Unjust promotions. Lack of diversity.

6. Social Stereotyping Bias

What Is It? A widely held but fixed idea that over-simplifies certain characteristics of a particular group of people.
Examples? Assuming women are less competent than men. Thinking men are useless at good calendar management. Believing all software developers lack social skills.
Impact? Triggers unjust judgments based on group traits. Hostile/toxic work environments.

7. Authority Bias

What Is It? Blindly believing and following figures in positions of authority, without considering accuracy, credibility or validity.
Examples? Preferring candidates who’ve been recommended by a renowned expert in the industry. Giving more attention to the opinion of senior management over supervisory managers.
Impact? Grants excessive influence to figures in power. Influences decision-making. Potential compliance issues.

How to Overcome Unconscious Biases at Work

Although it's not our fault, there are things we can do to overcome unconscious biases at work. At the end of the day, bias breeds more bias. As a leader, it's your duty to identify and nip unconscious bias in the bud before it has a chance to cause serious damage. To overcome this, we’ve created a concise unconscious bias checklist to help you out.

Assess Which Biases are Most Likely to Affect the Company

☐ Internal analysis of the employee lifecycle
☐ Hiring assessments
☐ Surveys Encourage

Employees to Speak up About Biases

☐ Lead by example
☐ Provide resources e.g. anonymous employee workplace reporting
☐ Take action; provide transparent updates, follow ups and resolutions

Train Employees to Identify and Mitigate Bias

☐ Unconscious bias training
☐ Private mentoring programs
☐ Encourage employees to regularly meet and share positive experiences
☐ Hold employees accountable for their behaviour

Audit and Update Company Hiring Processes

☐ Map out the candidate journey
☐ Organise internal processes
☐ Gather feedback from your recruiters

Ensure Data-driven and Informed Decisions

☐ Recognise your own biases
☐ Use qualitative data analysis e.g. employee feedback
☐ Implement a comprehensive bias-awareness strategy

Establish Accountability on Biassed Interactions

☐ Outline clear expectations and standards
☐ Create a culture of accountability e.g. assessments, focus groups, workshops
☐ Celebrate and reward inclusion and diversity

Set and Measure Goals for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

☐ Set SMART objectives (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time Bound)
☐ Concentrate on behaviour, not beliefs
☐ Learn from successes and failures


By recognising and acknowledging unconscious bias and tackling it head on, you can create a welcoming environment where people feel included, engaged and satisfied in their roles.

Equip yourself with the right tools and strategies listed above, whilst fostering open dialogues and encouraging diverse perspectives, and you'll be well on your way to creating a level playing field for all.

Author Bio

Cory Plachy is the Senior Marketing and Communications Manager at Convoso, the leading contact centre software for powering sales and lead generation As an adaptable and naturally curious Marketing Communications Manager, Cory channels years of content creation, marketing and sales experience into the world of SaaS communication. Here is her LinkedIn.

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