Before we talk about unconscious bias, shall we start with a small activity? Imagine a top leader giving a speech at a conference and the crowd cheering. You’re one of them.
Give it 5 seconds.
Now, coming back:
What did you imagine?
Was the leader man or woman?
What was the age?
Was the person tall or short in height?
What was the ethnicity?
That’s how bias begins. It doesn’t mean people don’t appreciate other important stuff. But we all have a background story that paints an image for us, and we unconsciously carry it to work.
It could be tiny assumptions like older people are not tech-savvy. Or more significant and damning assumptions like hiring too many women could weaken an org! Or, as a recruiter, you meet a candidate at an interview from your hometown and instantly feel connected. And it ends up favouring the candidate over other worthy ones.
Common Types of Unconscious Biases
Unconscious biases are societal stereotypes regarding particular groups that people form without realising it. Everyone has unconscious prejudices about various social and identity groups, which derive from one’s propensity to organise social worlds through categorisation, according to the Office of Diversity and Outreach, University of California.
These are some of the most common types of unconscious biases observed in workplaces:
- Racial – Giving priority to individuals with similar ethnicity.
- Gender – Preferring one gender over another or assuming that this gender is suited for this role or is superior.
- Name – Giving preference to people with similar names.
- Appearance – Viewing people with specific characteristics as more competent for the job.
- Age – Discriminating individuals based on age.
- Height – Letting the person’s height impact the final decision. Example: Assuming taller people are more suitable for leadership roles.
- Halo Effect – Keeping someone in high regard due to an initial positive impression.
- Horns Effect – Keeping a negative impression of a person for long and neglecting the excellent work.
- Confirmation Bias – Succumbing to preconceptions and not fair chance.
- LGBTQ Bias – Treating people from the LGBTQ community differently.
Five Drastic Outcomes Unconscious Biases Could Lead To
You just had a look at different types of unconscious bias. And here are five drastic outcomes all of it leads to.
1. Poor hiring decisions
An interviewee can make assumptions about the candidate based on first impression. For example, it could be on name, gender, ethnicity, height and previous work experience.
These biases could create a wall if the assumptions are negative. Or it could break the ceiling if beliefs are in favour. Then, the entire interview can become a highly biased process and lead to losing good talent.
Numbers also prove the bias. According to BrightTalk, “79% of HR professionals agree that unconscious bias affects recruitment.” Women are 30 % less likely even to get a job. There are many more research statistics to prove how bias comes in hiring. So, it’s essential to take steps to avoid it.
2. Affects employee engagement
There are many examples of bias in the workplace that can affect employee engagement. Like:
- Giving preference to one teammate over another.
- Doing performance evaluation with the baggage of past ratings and not giving a fair chance.
- Avoiding interactions with someone from the LGBTQ community.
Employees affected by bias are three times more likely to be disengaged at work. It has a considerable impact on overall productivity as well. There could be more stress-related illness, absenteeism and half-baked work.
3. Increases employee turnover
Bias not only affects productivity but retention as well. For example, a study shows people at the receiving end of discrimination are three times more likely to leave the job.
High employee turnover impacts the company’s profitability. More turnover means more hiring. And hiring is a costly affair.
4. Makes recruitment difficult
In the day and age of social media, the feedback of former employees spreads quickly. In addition, there are public forums where employees can share about their tenure in the company, like Glassdoor.
A word out there about bad culture can make the entire recruitment process tedious. For example, if a candidate has an offer from two companies with a similar pay structure, they will most likely choose the one with a better culture after going through online reviews.
5. Impacts leadership
Stereotyping and bias hold back deserving candidates to jump up the ladder. Poor leadership involved in these damning biases eventually takes the company in the wrong direction and loss is fatal.
Five Ways to Avoid Unconscious Bias
We had a look at the adverse effects of unconscious bias and now let’s see how to avoid it.
1. Gender-neutral language
This is a simple and first step towards the eradication of gender bias. In all communication and designation, use gender-neutral language. Example: Chairperson instead of Chairman.
Avoiding unconscious bias needs continuous effort and periodic training. There are a few training courses available online, like the Microsoft Unconscious Bias course. Companies can also design custom courses for their employees.
3. Blind recruitment
Hiding name and age for the initial screening process can prevent many biases from creeping in.
Ensuring there is enough diversity in terms of gender, age, ethnicity, and other factors will make employees more acceptable to different groups.
5. Blind performance management
Hiding previous years appraisal is a simple step to avoid bias in performance management. No employee should be preconceived as a good or bad performer. Everyone evolves with time.
We have covered a detailed framework on how employees can eliminate bias here.
Unconscious bias is wrong. But even worse is not taking steps to avoid it. Every person has a background story that may impact their decisions. Taking conscious efforts to avoid personal influence in hiring, team management, and performance management will take a company far ahead.
That’s all from our side. What are the other ways you think a company can avoid bias? Let us know in the comments.