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Identifying Bias at Work

Kanarys Staff


What is Unconscious Bias?

As humans, unconscious bias, also known as implicit bias, constantly affects our thinking and actions. Bias, developed in our brains, act as a survival aid—our unconscious preconceptions of people and situations are mental shortcuts devised by our brains to quickly make sense of and navigate a complex world. According to PwC, our brains are overloaded with 11 million pieces of information every second, yet we can only process about 40 of them.  Biases distort our critical thinking and, in a world far more complex than our ancestors experienced, can often lead to false conclusions and poor decision making unless we stay alert to their impact. 


Bias in the Workplace

In the workplace, implicit bias can show up as attitudes and stereotypes that people unconsciously accredit to an individual or group and affect their interactions with that person or group. This type of bias can lead to poor hiring practices and limited creativity, diversity, and inclusion within a workforce. The most crucial step in overcoming these issues is recognizing the common types of bias and how they may play out in work situations. 


6 Common Types of Bias 

Here are some examples of implicit bias in the workplace. 

 1. Affinity Bias

Also known as similarity bias, affinity bias is our tendency to favor people who are similar to us. We may connect more easily with people who share our interests, experiences, and backgrounds. We also tend to attribute more valuable traits to these people, whether or not they have demonstrated them. In the workplace, this can lead to hiring or promoting people of the same race, gender, age, educational background, etc., as the people already in leadership positions. 


2. Attribution Bias

We tend to make assumptions about others without knowing their whole story, particularly when something negative occurs. For example, a manager may judge an employee as lazy and unmotivated for not being in the office on time or for consistently leaving early when that person is actually going through a temporary personal situation. Another example is when an employee abruptly leaves a meeting or misses a meeting altogether, other co-workers may attribute blame to the employee’s personality traits rather than their situational circumstances at that moment. 


3. Confirmation Bias

Once we form an opinion of someone, we unconsciously look for more information that confirms our initial judgment. If we form beliefs — positive or negative — about nationality, gender, age group, behavioral characteristics, etc., based on early experiences, we will look for confirmation of that opinion whenever we interact with members of that group, rather than judging them in an unbiased manner. 


4. Conformity Bias

In a group, we tend to be influenced by the opinions of others, regardless of our views. An example of conformity bias in the workplace is an employee dressing, talking or acting a certain way to be more like “leadership.”  This tendency makes groups more cohesive but also serves to keep "outsiders" more isolated. Conformity bias can generate invisible but sticky resistance to diversity and inclusion efforts in the workplace.


5. Halo and Horns Effects

These biases are also based on first impressions. The halo effect is people's tendency to place another person on a pedestal after learning something impressive about them. In contrast, the horns effect is our tendency to write off another person after learning something negative about them. Someone who went to a good school may get a pass on subpar performance. Or someone who has a hard-to-understand accent might be judged as less intelligent or competent.


6. Perception Bias

Perception bias is a broad term for using simplistic and often inaccurate stereotypes to judge and interact with others. Perception bias covers stereotypes based on age, gender, name, attractiveness, height, etc. It operates when we view tall people as more competent, slim people as more motivated, younger people as more energetic, or people with white-sounding names as more relatable. 


How To Reduce Bias in the Workplace

Reducing unconscious bias is not a one-time fix but rather a process. Important decisions regarding others should never be made when stressed, angry or at a time when one is not truly present. Remind yourself of the facts, not the emotions or feelings involved, and continue to educate yourself and others on biases. One way to do so is taking Harvard’s Project Implicit “Implicit Association Test” to evaluate your own biases. 


Kanarys is Your DEI Champion


At Kanarys, we are the diversity, equity, and inclusion people with the data-driven approach. Since 2018, Kanarys has aimed to change the world by creating equitable workplaces where everyone belongs. We guide your organization’s DEI path every step of the way with courage and collaboration. It starts with data, analytics and insights, and continues with recommendations and implementation. 

Our mission, as your partner and champion in the ever-evolving DEI journey: Help you understand what it takes to foster lasting, systemic change today and for tomorrow. Because when you succeed with DEI, your employees can thrive—and so can your organization.

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