Digging Deeper into Unconscious Bias

Learn About The Different Types of Bias That Can Persuade The Decision-Making Process
Group of coworkers sitting around a table in a training about bias

Unconscious Bias

“Humans are allergic to change. They love to say, ‘We’ve always done it this way.’ I try to fight that. That’s why I have a clock on my wall that runs counter-clockwise.” – Rear Admiral Grace Hopper

Hopper’s words are true for how we have recruited, screened, interviewed, and onboarded employees for decades. It’s time for change, but it does not have to be scary.

When looking at an employee lifecycle, we need to look through an unbiased lens. So how do we get there?

If you’ve completed the Implicit Bias Test, you’ve become aware of your unconscious bias and you’re willing to challenge these unconscious beliefs to find the truth and not assume. The next step is being able to label what types of bias are likely to occur that affect not just our personal life but the workplace.

READ MORE: Examining our Unconscious Bias

Types of Bias

Let’s take a look at a few biases that can permeate our decision making process:

Affinity bias

The tendency to warm up to people like ourselves.
Example: Job applicant graduated from the same college as us and grew up in our hometown. Because of this, we assume they are the right candidate.

Halo effect

The tendency to think everything about a person is good because you like that person.
Example: While reviewing a resume, you see the applicant received several awards from a previous employer. Impressed with their credentials, we may overlook key skillsets and knowledge needed for position.

Perception bias

The tendency to form stereotypes and assumptions about certain groups that make it impossible to make an objective judgment about members of those groups.
Example: One study gave a group of managers a set of resumes. Some of them were exact duplicates, where only the names had been changed. Resumes with Anglo-sounding names received substantially more callbacks than those with diverse names of other origins. Clearly it was the names and their associated biases that impacted the decisions instead of the qualifications and value they could bring to the company.

Attribution bias

When people evaluate or try to find reason for their own and others’ behaviors without having all the data we to need to be accurate.

Group think

This bias occurs when people try too hard to fit into a particular group my mimicking others or holding back thoughts and opinions. This causes them to lose part of their identities and causes organizations to lose out on creativity and innovation.

Confirmation bias

HR recruiters have to actively pay attention to this bias. Confirmation bias happens when we make a judgment about another person while subconsciously looking for evidence to back up our own opinion of the person. We do this because we want to believe we are right.
Example: In one study, law firms were given a fictitious legal memo that included grammatical, factual, and technical analysis errors. Half of the memos were from an African American author, and the other half were from a Caucasian author. When the memo was perceived to be by the African American author, law firms partners found more of the errors and rated the memo as lower in quality than when the author was perceived to be Caucasian.

Bias in The Workplace

As we dig deeper into our understanding of unconscious bias and how it effects our decision-making and behaviors, we need to be aware of how our biases may play out in the workplace.

  • Micro-aggression: Statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle or unintentional discrimination or a marginalized group.
    Example: “I bought empanadas for the breakfast meeting. I’m hoping this will increase the attendance of our Latino employees.”
  • Micro-behaviors/inequities: Tiny, often unconscious things we may say or do making those around us either excluded/unappreciated or included/valued.
    Example: While asking your supervisor a question, they glance at their watch and check text messages several times. You ask yourself if they are really paying attention, and is what you’re saying important to them.

We could look at definitions all day, but the key here is awareness – awareness of biases, micro-aggressions and micro-behaviors. Choosing to become self-aware is a journey and can cause apprehension. The beauty of becoming self-aware is it does not keep you from making mistakes; it allows you to learn from and correct them.

“Owning your biases – and gaining a greater insight into what activates those biases – is an important step, especially in our politically correct climate where people are ashamed to admit the fact that they don’t always see the world in the unbiased way that they think they should. … It takes humility and self-awareness to appreciate difference and then leverage it in ways that both improve the culture and grow the organization.” – Nicholas A. Pearce, Clinical Associate Professor of Management and Organizations at Northwestern Kellogg School of Management.


Price, S. (n.d). “Think slow”. BCCJacumen.com. 
Ross, H. (2008) Exploring unconscious bias. Diversity Best Practices

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