5 Types of Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

Unconscious Bias Wordmap

Unconscious biases are attitudes and stereotypes accumulated throughout life that can influence our decision making, particularly when something must be decided quickly. These biases often lead to inaccurate assessments based on faulty rationale.

Unchecked, unconscious bias can result in a narrow pool of candidates being hired and promoted, as well as limited creativity, diversity, and inclusivity in the workplace. Unconscious bias can also affect collaboration between employees and prevent innovation and productivity.

Unconscious biases are typically outside of our awareness and can inadvertently affect who is selected for an interview, how interviews are conducted, who is hired and our reasons for hiring them. The first step in combating these unknown influencers is to be aware of various types of bias in order to recognize these attitudes and how they are expressed in our behavior.

1. Affinity Bias

Affinity bias leads us to favor people who we feel we have a connection or similarity to. For example, attending the same college, growing up in the same town, or reminding us of ourselves or someone we know and like. This can have a big impact during recruitment.
For instance, interactions with people we feel we share an affinity with will differ from people with no shared affinity. If a candidate we have an affinity with tells us they’re a little nervous we may smile more or offer more words of encouragement to try and set them at ease. Whereas, if a person we shared no affinity with told us the same thing, we wouldn’t behave quite as warm towards them. After the interview, the first candidate would seem to be a better fit than the second candidate.

2. Halo Effect

The Halo Effect occurs when we perceive one great thing about a person and let that halo glow of that one thing color our opinions of everything else about that person.
For example, if we notice that someone went to a highly regarded college where they received a certain high grade, or that someone had received a prestigious award, we tend to let this achievement influence how we see everything else about that person.

3. Horns Effect

The Horns Effect is the direct opposite of the Halo effect, and occurs when perception of someone is unduly influenced by one negative trait.
For example, if we do not like the way someone dresses we might assume they are also lazy and unprofessional, even though professionalism and competence are not related to attire.

4. Attribution Bias

Attribution bias affects how we assess other people and their achievements. It can be particularly impactful during recruitment.
When assessing ourselves, we tend to think our achievements are direct results of our merit and personality; while our failings are the result of external factors, including other people that adversely affected us and prevented us from doing our best.
When it comes to assessing other people, however, we often think the opposite is true. We are more likely to consider the achievements of others as a result of luck or chance; and their failings as a result of their personality or behavior.

5. Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is the tendency to search for, interpret, focus on and remember information that aligns with our preconceived opinions. Recruiters have to be very careful regarding this bias.

If we make a judgement about a candidate, we subconsciously look for evidence to back up our own opinions. We want to believe we are right and that we have made the correct assessment of a candidate. The danger of confirmation bias in recruitment, is that our own judgement could inaccurate and result in the loss of a great candidate for the job.

Being aware of these various biases can help you counter their influence over you, and aid in more sound decision making during hiring and promotion.
If you or your organization want to learn more about unconscious bias, we’d be happy to speak with you.

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