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Examples of Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

By: Erich TollDiversity Insights
Examples of Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

Did you know that despite our best intentions, unconscious bias can seep into our workplace decisions? Picture this: two equally qualified candidates, one male and one female, but one is preferred over the other based on gender. This is just one example of unconscious bias in the workplace.

In part 1 of this post, we explored four different types of unconscious bias. Now, in part 2, we will explore five more types and examples of unconscious bias in the workplace. Unconscious biases are stereotypes about certain people groups that stem from someone’s own subconscious thoughts. These biases stem from the way people tend to organize social worlds into categories.

As we seek to be more inclusive at work, we must be more aware of – and avoid – these biases. Arming your employees with this knowledge and encouraging them to acknowledge these incidents allows you to help reduce unintentional discrimination.

Here are five examples of unconscious bias in the workplace for you to learn from in this Unconscious Bias Training blog.

Examples of Unconscious Bias

Contrast Effect

The Contrast Effect occurs when you’re comparing two similar things. Typically, this bias distorts our perception of something by comparing it to something else.

Example:  Imagine a situation where two candidates are interviewed back-to-back; the second candidate might appear stronger due to the contrast with the first, even if both are equally qualified.

Gender Bias

Gender bias is a preference for one gender over another. Often, it causes an individual to lean unconsciously toward an individual based on their particular gender and its qualities. These “qualities” normally stem from deep-seated beliefs about gender roles and stereotypes.

Example: Certain terminology on job postings favors one gender over another, leading to gender bias. Workplace microaggression training is one way to help reduce gender bias in the workplace.

The Halo/Horns Effect

The Halo Effect occurs when we focus on one positive attribute of a person, and let that “halo” glow impact our overall opinion. The Horns Effect is the opposite when your entire opinion of someone is affected by one negative trait.

Example: Knowing someone went to an Ivy League school and expecting that they’re otherwise great in everything that they do. An example of the Horns Effect is thinking negatively of someone’s professional work just because you don’t like the way they dress.

Name Bias
Candidates with “white-sounding” names are more likely to be successful at various stages of the recruitment process. The only way to remedy this is to institute a name-blind recruitment process.

Example: One study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that white names receive 50% more callbacks for interviews than Black American names.

Weight Bias

Weight bias encompasses negative attitudes towards people who are overweight or obese, extending to those with weight-related issues, including eating disorders.

Example: Employees with higher body weight face weight-based inequity in employment including unfair hiring practices, lower wages, fewer promotions, harassment from co-workers, and unfair job termination.

Try Unconscious Bias Training in Your Workplace

Unconscious biases are often based on inaccurate or incomplete information. And while they usually have no ill intent, they can negatively impact who gets recruited or promoted. How do you avoid unconscious bias in the workplace? The first step is to enable your employees to see and name these patterns. Make sure that all team members are always respectful and inclusive with managing unconscious bias training.

Unconscious Bias in the Workplace FAQs

What’s an example of unconscious bias in the workplace?

One example involves the hiring process where male candidates are preferred over female ones even though they have the same education, job experience, and skills.

What are the two most common types of unconscious bias observed in the workplace?

There are many types of unconscious biases that we explained in part one of this post. Some include name bias, confirmation bias, and affinity bias.

What are the three C’s for managing unconscious bias?

Three important messages for managing unconscious bias include curiosity about the topic, courageousness to speak up, and the commitment to change.

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