How to avoid unconscious bias

The prevelance of unconscious bias in the workplace has come to the fore in recent years with much research on the subject. Addressing unconscious bias can help improve diversity and inclusion within an organisation in both its day to day activities and recruitment processes.

There are many actions that organisations can take to raise awareness and tackle unconscious bias.

What is unconscious bias?

Unconscious bias is subconscious beliefs that affect people’s attitudes and actions. Also know as implicit bias it is an assumption and belief you have in favour or against a person or group of people. The prejeduices are unintentional – they happen outside of your awareness.

Unconscious biases start forming when we are young. Our brains take in information from childhood, background, family, friends, culture and experiences. It then uses this information to make quick judgements about types or groups of people. Because they happen unconsciously, they can be difficult to recognise. And – to complicate matters further – unconscious biases can be the direct opposite of our conscious beliefs and values.

The effect of unconscious bias in the workplace

Unconscious bias amongst employees can effect all areas of your organisation from recruitment to management. Some of the issues arrising from unconscious bias are:

  • Preferential treatment
  • Discrimination
  • Harrassment
  • Exclusionary behaviour

Types of unconscious bias

It’s useful to be aware of the types of unconscious bias that may be occuring within your organisation. By knowing what the types of unconscious bias look like you can better identify and tackle them. Types of unconscious bias include:

Gender bias

This would be where a belief about someone is solely based on their gender. This might cause managers or recruiters to favour people of a certain gender for a job or task based on their unconscious beliefs that they might be better at the job than someone of a different gender.

Appearance bias

Here someone would form a opinion on another person based purely on the looks/appearance/skin colour – rather than on their skills, experience/abilities/work performance.

Affinity bias

This is where someone would favour another because they share similarities and may see themselves in that person.

Confirmation bias

Confirmation bias happens when you form an opinion of someone and then you subconscionsly start looking for evidence to confirm your judgement or belief.

How to manage unconscious bias in your organisation

Many organisations create HR Policies aimed at reducing the effects of Unconscious Bias. These could include:


Investing in unconscious bias training for all employees is a great place to start. The will help employees understand and identify unconscious bias and create a more positive, respectful environment.

Re-visit your recruitment processes

Set Goals for hiring managers

Set goals for hiring managers to increase diversity in both candidate pools and hires.

Job Descriptions and Adverts

The choice of words and lauguage used in job descriptions can lead to unconscious bias. Words such as ‘determined’ may be deemed more masculine and therefore attract more male applicants, likewise words like ‘collaborative’ may draw more female applications. The aim is to create gender neutral job advertisements – either by using more neutral adjectives or by ensureing an equal quantity of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminie’ adjectives. There are now Software programmes available that will help you create inclusive job descriptions.

Blind CV Reviewing

Reviewing applicants’ CVs ‘blind’ (anonymising CVs) will help your hiring teams focus on candidates’ qualifications and talents. Again there are tools available to help you with this.

Test your candidates

Give candidates a test to perform that mimics the kind of tasks they will need to perform in the job. Comparing candidates on the results of these tests will help idenfity those best suited to the job. It will force hiring teams to judge candidates based on their skills rather than on their appearance, age, gender etc. Learn more about interview tests.

Use interview scorecards

Using interview scorecards will help standardise your interviews and give hiring teams a clear process for comparing candidates based on their skills and abilities.

Create and enforce new policies and practices

As you build a more diverse team, it’s importance to have company policies that help enforce the right behaviours within your organisation. Focus on encouraging, accepting and embracing employees’ differences to make them feel welcomed and respected in your company. Examples of policies you could introduce are:

  • Standardising pay scales and promotion criteria
  • Performing pay equity audits
  • Allowing all voices to be heard in meetings
  • Creating an anonymous feedback system
  • Setting a no-tolerance policy for discrimination

Following the steps above should help you increase diversity, equality and inclusion in your organisation leading to a more respected, safe, fair and diverse workplace.

Further Reading:

Automotive Industry Salary Guide

Interview Scorecards

How to build an employer brand

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