We all have biases, and they manifest themselves in many different ways. Here are fifteen examples of conscious and unconscious biases that impact the workplace daily and how you can avoid them. Although we have pulled together a substantial list of examples below, it is by no means a complete list.
Affinity bias occurs when we gravitate towards people who are like ourselves. There is a myriad of reasons that we may relate to a person in this way, including sharing similar characteristics or background, similar values, or a shared interest. It occurs due to our brain, noting the shared traits or interests and registers the data as familiar and, therefore, safe.
Affinity bias has often led to job offers being extended to candidates who the interviewer(s) feel are most like them, rather than thinking about how they fit within the team and what they can add to it. It leads to a lack of diversity and a high proportion of the workforce with similar skills, reduces innovation and results in the organisation experiencing great difficulties when it comes to remaining competitive in their market.
How to avoid infinity bias: When interviewing a candidate, note the similarities you share with them. Then create a separate list of the differences and what those differences could add to the team/organisation.
Ageism refers to a bias towards someone as a result of their age. Although ageism is commonly associated with older workers, particularly over the last few years, we have seen a substantial increase in younger workers reporting that they feel they have been treated less favourably because of their age.
How to prevent age-related bias: While you can remove details of applications related to or provide an indication of age, this does not prevent age-related bias later in the interview stage or with an existing employee. Train your team and educate them on the benefits that different generation of workers bring and debunk some of the negative myths surrounding workers of different ages.
When considering a candidates’ experience, whether due to age or a career change, ask appropriate questions to enable you to consider the quality of that experience, not just the length in terms of years. Also, take into consideration transferable skills and enthusiasm to develop and grow into the role.
Attribution bias refers to the systematic error we make when trying to find reasons (or excuses) for peoples’ behaviours and motivations. We can be quick to judge and make assumptions about people. While we often attribute our own successes to our skills and decisions and our failures to external factors outside our control, when it comes to other people, we tend to attribute their success to external factors such as luck and their failure to their intrinsic nature or lack of ability.
When it comes to recruitment, we may decide not to take someone through to the next stage or offer them a role due to something in their CV or a particular behaviour during an interview. It can also be highly damaging when managing performance as we tend to focus more on people’s weaknesses, failing to recognise their strengths and even minimising their successes.
How to avoid attribution bias: Attribution bias can often be avoided by asking questions to find out more about the other person and finding out what has happened instead of making an assumption. If there are gaps in their CV, ask them why. If they behave in a particular way, it may be due to nerves. Review your recruitment process and consider whether you are giving candidates the best possible chance to shine? After all, you want to find the best person for the role, which is not necessarily the person who performs best at an interview.
When managing your team, focus on people’s strengths. Catch them doing something well, acknowledge it and congratulate them on a job well done. This doesn’t mean ignoring areas that require development, make sure they aren’t the key focus. You will have a much happier and more productive team in the long run.
Beauty (or attraction) bias
Research shows that people considered ‘attractive’ are more likely to be offered a job, more significant opportunities to develop, and more likely to be promoted. In 2014 the Journal of Organizational Psychology published interesting research into Attractiveness Biases in the Context of Hiring Through Social Networking Sites. It can also impact where we feel that someone hasn’t made enough effort or even too much, leading to assumptions about their skills and work ethic.
How to avoid beauty bias: Removing any photos from applications and ensuring an objective assessment can help prevent beauty bias. However, it could still become an issue at the interview stage or with existing employees so, don’t forget to provide to train and educate your staff.
We love to prove ourselves right, and we tend to look for evidence that confirms our initial opinions of someone while overlooking information that contradicts our initial assessment – selective observation. We form an idea of someone within 30 seconds of meeting them, and although first impressions can be important, other factors should be considered. Organisations have cost themselves dearly because they have hired someone based on a first impression, only to realise that the candidate is unable to do the job or is unsuitable for the role they were recruited for.
How to avoid confirmation bias: When it comes to confirmation bias, an excellent way to tackle the issue is to do your utmost to prove yourself wrong – disprove your hypothesis, including asking a colleague to challenge your decision-making. Working with an executive coach or mentor can also be a great way to challenge your thinking and help you to step back and consider your thoughts and decisions from a different perspective.
In group settings, we tend to take cues from the people around us, allowing others to influence our decisions, rather than exercise our own independent judgement. Conformity bias is often prominent in organisations where people don’t feel able to share their view openly, particularly where there is a lack of diversity or trust.
How to reduce the risk of conformity bias: Ask people to submit ideas separately. In a meeting situation, an option is to ask everyone to note their ideas on sticky notes, put the ideas up on the wall and work through them one by one. In an interview scenario, ask all interviewers to submit their views before any group discussions. Encourage debate and be respectful of everyone’s viewpoints.
Contrast bias relates to comparing two or more things rather than assessing their merits individually. For example, when interviewing candidates back to back, how you view one candidate can often depend on how well the candidate before them performed. Whereas, if you had interviewed them in a different order, your opinion may have been entirely different. This is also common for appraisal meetings.
How to reduce contrast bias: Create a well-structured process with objective scoring criteria to ensure much more consistent results for both appraisal and recruitment purposes. Having a colleague, coach, or mentor to challenge your thinking can also reduce the risk of contrast bias.
Disability bias is an area that is often missing when we talk about unconscious bias. However, it is just as prevalent as other biases and often overlaps with many other biases discussed within this article. Despite organisations actively looking to take on more employees with disabilities, people with disabilities are largely misunderstood by business leaders, managers and the larger workforce.
Many assumptions are made about disabilities, which are often incorrect. This is exacerbated by a lack of education regarding disability in the workplace and people feeling uncomfortable talking about disabilities. Research by Scope shows that almost 70% of the UK public feel uncomfortable talking to people with disabilities. Research also shows that people with disabilities are reluctant to disclose their condition(s) or discuss the full extent of their challenges for fear of being considered weak or incompetent.
How to avoid disability bias: Educate your workforce at all levels on various disabilities, the challenges people living with those disabilities may face and the strengths of having them as part of your team. Train your workforce on having open and honest conversations around disability and supporting those who face challenges. Review and adapt your recruitment processes, policies and working environment to better support people living with disabilities.
Gender bias is one of the most commonly discussed and often comes from stereotypes. There are many cases sounding pregnancy discrimination, requirements to wear makeup or high heels in the workplace, and women being asked to take minutes in meetings as opposed to their male counterparts. A typical example is a male being considered more suitable for a physically demanding role.
There is a misconception that it is men that are biased towards females in the workplace. However, we have also seen cases where women have demonstrated a gender bias towards other women.
Research has been carried out into the language used when creating job descriptions and whether the content is more likely to attract male or female candidates. As a result, more and more organisations are increasingly focused on the terminology they use in job descriptions and how they can encourage a more diverse pool of candidates.
How to prevent gender bias: Again, blind screening of applications can and is commonly used. However, once again, it is only sufficient for a small part of the recruitment process. Training for staff to debunk myths around gender differences, ensuring an objective recruitment and appraisal process is crucial. Company policies around employee benefits and flexible working should also be reviewed to ensure they provide equal opportunities for everyone.
The halo effect applies when you focus on a particular feature you like or are impressed by, and you consider them more favourably as a result. Common examples include candidates who were educated at prestigious schools or universities or have worked for particular companies. The ‘halo effect’ results in a failure to make a balanced assessment and overlook other featured that indicate they are not the right person for the role.
How to avoid the halo effect: The halo effect can be dangerously blinding when reviewing candidates. When examining applications, you’re probably looking for something that makes a candidate stand out from the rest. When you do this, also consider the candidate without that one gleaming attribute and see how their experiences, skills and personalities compare to other candidates who may not have had the same privileges or opportunities.
It may also be worth remembering that some of the most successful business people didn’t finish university, and some didn’t even finish high school.
Height bias (or heightism)
Height bias refers to judging a significantly shorter or tall person than the ‘socially accepted’ human height. Research has shown that tall candidates are seen as more competent. In his book, Blink, Malcolm Gladwell discusses his study, which showed that 58% of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are at least six feet tall, and 30% are six feet two inches or taller.
How to avoid height bias: The same applies here as it does more many of these biases: blind selection of candidates, training and educating staff, objective processes and policies, and debunking myths around height.
The horns effect is the direct opposite of the halo effect and is the tendency to focus on a feature or trait negatively, clouding your judgement and overlooking other great attributes the individual has. It can also include a negative focus on a quality that has no real bearing on the individuals’ role. A typical example of this is supporting a different sports team.
How to avoid the horns effect: If you have a negative ‘gut feeling’ about someone, take the time to identify the root cause of that ‘gut feeling’ – where is it coming from? Ask others to challenge your thinking. Recruitment panels can also help prevent both the horns and halo effect. You may also want to challenge other panel members when recruiting to understand the reasons for their views and preferences fully.
Name bias is very closely linked to age, gender and race bias. Research has shown that white names receive 50% more callbacks for interviews than African American names. It is also common in cases of the halo effect where we may have had positive experiences with people who have the same name and also, the horns effect for the opposite reason.
How to avoid name bias: Exchanging names for candidate numbers at the initial recruitment stage helps prevent name bias. Staff also need to be trained to ensure they are aware of their biases and take the appropriate action to ensure they do not influence their decision and behaviours.
Neurodiversity bias is closely linked to disability bias, and for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010, many neurodivergent conditions are considered a disability. Therefore, they a protected characteristic. Neurodiversity refers to those with conditions such as ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and Tourette Syndrome. Some are considered ‘learning difficulties’, and some are considered barriers to employability, often wrongly.
The Institute of Leadership and Management recently conducted a study on Workplace Neurodiversity: The Power of Difference, which revealed that 50% of people asked said they wouldn’t employ someone who had a neurodivergent condition.
How to avoid disability bias: The research shows that, as with many other areas, there is an enormous need for education regarding neurodiverse conditions, the myths surrounding them and the benefits people with such conditions can bring to the organisation. Review and adapt your recruitment processes, policies and working environment to better support people with neurodivergent. Currently, most interview processes are heavily weighted in favour of those who are ‘neurotypical.’
Racial bias is a prejudicial view towards one or more racial groups. As with gender and disability, many larger organisations have published statements regarding their intentions to develop a more diverse workforce. These intentions are all well and good, but there needs to be a clear and effective strategy to ensure these good intentions become a reality.
How to avoid racial bias: Blind candidate selection and training will help reduce the risk, but only if people of Asian, Black, Mixed, and Other ethnic groups. Review your recruitment processes and adverts to remove unnecessary hurdles. If the advert requires a degree or another higher education level, challenge yourself and why it is considered necessary. Experience can be just as valuable, even more so in some cases. Around 20% of Asian, Black, Mixed, and Other ethnic groups go onto further education. Review the development opportunities you provide to minority groups. Review where you are placing your adverts for new opportunities. Are a diverse group of people going to see them, or are likely readers heavily weighted to a particular group.
The most common weight bias relates to people who are considered ‘heavy’ or overweight. Particularly damaging stereotypes are that people who are deemed overweight are lazy, lack self-discipline and are less conscientious.
How to avoid weight bias: Training helps staff understand their conscious and unconscious biases, debunk myths, and ensure people take steps to ensure that biases that remain are not influencing people’s decisions are crucial for avoiding weight bias.
Although activities such as blind selection at the initial stages of recruitment can help prevent bias in the workplace, they are a sticking plaster only and do not get to the issue’s root cause. To truly combat unconscious bias in the workplace, we need to understand and identify our bias. Then we can take the appropriate action to challenge our perceptions and ensure they do not impact our decisions.
Delphinium’s unconscious bias training is designed to help businesses understand the root cause of unconscious bias, its impact in the workplace and how to prevent preferences from influencing decision-making. Our training sessions are particularly suitable for those in a people management role and anyone involved in recruitment. We also work with you to ensure long term behavioural change.
Author: Gemma Rolstone | Published 7th April 2021