Unconscious Bias at the Workplace

Biases are an integral part of human nature. At the workplace, human biases can become toxic or lead to discrimination, creating a stifle environment and impact productivity and profitability.

Biases work at two levels- conscious (those that we are aware of and can work towards overcoming) and unconscious ( those that are a part of our subconscious and surface from time to time). The latter often goes unnoticed and unchecked to the person displaying such biased behaviour.

Types of Unconscious Biases-

Unconscious bias might seem like a small element in the overall working of an organization but it lays the foundation for the work culture of the organization. There are different types of unconscious biases -

Affinity bias- When we subconsciously prefer some people over others simply because they have similar qualities or are from a similar background. For instance- assuming that because somebody shares similar interests so he/she will be a great worker.

Cultural bias- When we stereotype an individual based on their country, state or region without actually looking into their skills or performance levels.

Confirmation bias- When our views are influenced by people around us and usually occurs when we are seeking acceptance from others. For instance, agreeing to go ahead with a project, because the majority sees merit in tit, even though we may have a different opinion. 

Halo Effect- When we only look at one good thing about a person and let that halo glow cloud our judgment about everything else with regards to that person. For instance, if an employee is good at public speaking, he/she will surely be good at people management.

Cloven hoof effect- It is the antithesis of the Halo Effect. When we generalize one negative aspect of an employee to their overall performance, it has the power to cloud our view about all their other qualities. For instance, if a person is late for work on a particular day, he is branded as being unpunctual.

Gender bias- When there is a marked difference in the way men and women are handled, recruited, promoted and given compensation at a workplace. Gender Bias is one of the most common bias seen at workplaces. For example, while recruitment, an employer will subconsciously think that a male candidate will be better suited for a job that is physically more demanding.

Effects of Unconscious Bias-

Many research studies show that unconscious bias is well entrenched in every aspect of the workplace today- be it retention, recruitment, promotion, appraisals, performance, and allocation of work. They create an unhealthy working environment at a micro level with a lot of in-fighting and politics coming to the fore and have a negative impact on the overall growth of the organization.

Unconscious biases cloud judgment and compel individuals to take decisions that might be detrimental for the overall well being of the organization. Studies have shown that such biases affect hiring decisions, salaries, promotion opportunities and in turn the overall productivity of the organization. Unconscious bias if not checked and corrected at the right time can turn into discrimination. Today, many women looking for a job often check the working demographics of the company and only if there is a healthy ratio of men and women in the company, do they apply for the role. Thus, very often, an employer might lose out on good candidates due to gender bias in the organization.

There are many other biases that people look at while applying for jobs. So the best solution is to do away with the biases and live in a cohesively strong workplace that focuses more on productivity.

SHRM India’s workshop on Unconscious Bias explores and internalizes your appreciation of unconscious bias, its impact on talent and managerial decisions, and how to disrupt barriers to diversity and inclusion. You can read more about workshop benefits, key takeaways, here.



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