In recent years, many news outlets and business journals have addressed gender and race biases, the most prevalent types of American workplace prejudice. So there’s a good chance that your company has already addressed those issues (and if it hasn’t, you’re frankly behind the times).
But there is a slew of other unconscious biases, also known as implicit biases, to be aware of. Understanding what they are and acknowledging that they exist in your business can be a first step to eliminating them from both your hiring process and work environment and helping your company reach its full potential.
The impact of bias
It’s well worth your time and effort to take workplace bias seriously. It can cost you, both literally (in fines or lawsuits) and in overall morale and retention. Both intentional and unconscious discriminatory practices are illegal, and some of the most well-known worldwide organizations have paid the price for allowing them. For example, Google and Signet Jewelers agreed to almost $300 million combined in gender bias settlements. Tesla was sued for racial bias, and McDonald’s agreed to a $33.5 million settlement with one of its store owners who had sued for racial discrimination.
Just as important, unconscious bias can be like a cancer in your workforce, silently eroding your team’s morale and your company’s reputation. Even AI algorithms that companies use for their hiring processes aren’t immune to bias, resulting in a reported widespread loss of revenue and customers—and catching the attention of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which started investigating their usage and fairness in 2021.
Common types of bias
As mentioned earlier, gender and racial biases have received ample attention in corporate America, and deservedly so. But they only scratch the surface. Learning about different kinds of prejudice that can permeate a business culture is a smart way to start addressing and eliminating the problem and its potential toll on your organization.
Here are ten of the most common yet underdiscussed biases and how they can impact your team.
Often overlooked, age-based discrimination against middle-aged or older people is more prevalent than ever according to AARP, with 78 percent of older workers reporting that they have seen or experienced it. But don’t forget that implicit bias can also be experienced at the other end of the age spectrum if you make or allow hasty generalizations about people in their twenties.
When you have an affinity for someone, you feel a kinship with them—which is not necessarily the best trait for hiring or promoting. So, for example, resist the urge to favor a candidate because they graduated from the same college as you.
This type of bias occurs when you make a judgment about an employee and then allow it to stick with them. For example, if a person arrives late for their first day of work, they become known for tardiness even if their initial lateness was because of something out of their control, such as being stuck in gridlock because of an accident.
Have you ever felt strongly about something or someone related to your business and found it hard to let that feeling go? If so, you’ve experienced confirmation bias—you want confirmation of your belief, which may blind you to other people’s opinions or facts. If you’re a successful entrepreneur, you might be particularly affected by this.
This is a subtle form of peer pressure or groupthink. Whether in meetings or during the interview process, an employee may feel pressured to conform to others’ opinions rather than think individually.
As the name suggests, this type of bias results from when you contrast candidates for hire or promotion, such as pitting two consecutive resumes against each other rather than how each candidate satisfies the job description.
If you get easily wowed by one aspect of an interviewee, such as them having a degree from an Ivy League school, it can cause you to ignore other potential red flags.
Consider this the anti-halo effect. In the case of this bias, you allow a negative attribute, even something superficial such as a candidate repeatedly saying “Um” during an interview, to stick with them, overlooking their positive traits.
Other physical biases
This is all about first impressions and the judgments you make from them. For example, studies indicate that you may favor hiring candidates or employees because of physical traits such as beauty, height, or weight. People with disabilities, either physical or mental, can be particularly impacted by implicit assumptions. Also, although not always a physical characteristic, affect heuristics can cause you to prejudge someone by a quality such as their name or even the types of clothes they wear.
Especially relevant since COVID-19 began, this bias occurs when a higher-up forms opinions and possibly makes decisions about someone based on physical closeness—such as showing preferential treatment to in-office employees over remote workers.
What to do
The above list includes only a portion of the biases that can affect the employee experience, so it may seem like an impossible obstacle to overcome. However, communication is key. Discuss the issue with your human resources department and executive team, and decide whether tools like blind resume reviews or diversity training should be implemented. And be sure to go right to the source by anonymously surveying your employees to gauge how they honestly feel about your company culture and processes and their growth potential.
Workplace bias has likely existed since there has been an employer-employee dynamic. However, in the twenty-first century, it’s better understood, more discussed, and able to be addressed. This creates a fairer, more equitable workplace, improves morale, and allows for the best people and ideas to rise to the top—a win-win for both companies and their employees.
Take Action: Research the various forms of subconscious bias, and honestly ask yourself which of them you or your company may exhibit. Then talk to your HR director to find ways to address them.