Addressing Unconscious Bias at Work

Researchers suggest that diversity can positively impact a company’s productivity. Forbes magazine quoted a case study published by McKinsey. It found companies with the most ethnically diverse executive teams are 33% more profitable. Realistically, implicit bias is the most difficult type of bias to absolve.

Gaze around the executive table at your company. Do the faces looking back resemble your own? If so, chances are implicit biases exist and has gone undetected within your company for quite some time.

Understanding: What is Implicit Bias?

Once diversity is a corporate objective, the company should clearly communicate to all employees that explicit, or conscious bias, is absolutely unacceptable. However, implicit bias is much more difficult to combat. Implicit bias refers to an attitude(s) or stereotype(s) that unconsciously affects how we think, what we do and how we respond to others.

Research suggests everyone has implicit biases. According to Training, implicit biases exist because humans need to process a lot of information in a short amount of time in order to successfully reach sound decisions. Fortunately, we can re-train our brains to establish new methodology.

While it is unclear how many types of implicit biases have been classified, here are a few common ones:

Affinity bias- This is the occasion in which we associate with people with whom we identify. Shared interests or commonalities tend to influence how well we receive others.

Attribution bias- This type is readily identifiable through a flawed perception of one’s own actions as opposed to the actions of others.

Beauty bias- When one associates a person’s physical appearance with a specific personality type or stereotype.

Confirmation bias- This occurs when one looks for evidence to support a preconceived notion about another person.

Conformity bias- Surrendering under peer pressure, one’s views are influenced to conform to the majority opinion.

Contrast bias- It compares person A to person B based only on the metrics favorable to person A or person B.

Halo Effect- When one likes a single characteristic of an individual and assumes that individual must possess additional positive traits as well.

Horns Effect- Failure to recognize positive characteristics of another person due to the existence of a single, negative trait.

Acknowledging and Addressing the Biases

The first step to resolving a lack of diversity is to acknowledge and identify existing biases. Start by obtaining as much viable information regarding prevalent implicit biases within the company. Require current employees participate in mandatory, anonymous survey designed to provide the necessary privacy to report unfair situations or identify any biases experienced in the workplace. Former employees are also a great source. When individuals can confidently voice their opinions without possible repercussion, they are typically 100% honest about their work experience with your company.

Once the biases specific to your company are known, control the narrative by intentionally discussing fair treatment and overall respect. Review every phase of the employment cycle for implicit bias, from resume submission and interviews to promotion and termination.  Offer training sessions to address prior situations and the emotional aftermath. Consider creating an Ombudsmen position tasked with a primary responsibility of handling employee complaints regarding discriminatory behavior. These are a few simple ways to directly address and eventually eradicate implicit bias.



True diversity encompasses individuals who represent different genders or originate from various ethnic or even cultural backgrounds. While many business leaders understand the value of diversity, being purposeful to change the workforce can be extremely challenging. Once your company understands what implicit bias is and which issues exist, then it’s time for the leadership to develop and implement strategic initiatives aimed at achieving diversity. Boosting the company’s profit margin is a nice payoff too!