Implicit Bias in the Workplace and How It Impacts Your Company

If you are in a leadership position, you regularly need to make quick decisions. The same process your brain uses to consider possibilities quickly and come to a particular conclusion is also used in social interactions and personal decision-making. Just as our ancestors made informed decisions on the fly (“Will that tiger eat me if I don’t run?”), we are called upon to make fast and effective judgement calls as leaders. When we rely on past judgement calls for future decision-making, this is referred to as implicit bias.

While every individual has varying degrees of implicit bias, it has proven to be present within everyone. It is simply impossible to completely halt our brain’s tendency to judge situations and individuals quickly. As is often the case, a strength in one area reveals a weakness in another. The effects these subconscious judgments can have on our organizations can be dramatic – and even damaging. We’ll cover some of the impacts implicit bias has on your workplace, and how to recognize it to stop it in its tracks.

The Effects Of Implicit Bias On Hiring And Promoting

Specific types of implicit bias make individuals more likely to hire or promote others who resemble themselves. Your decision-makers may actually be passing over individuals with more experience, training or job skills. This happens as they unintentionally prefer individuals that they can better relate with because of their similarities. If part of your strategy in becoming an employe of choice includes hiring exceptional talent, you may be unknowingly turning away those most talented candidates. Instead, you’ll end up with those most familiar to you, limiting growth and the introduction of new ideas.

implicit bias in the workplace

One method to help ensure such trends do not develop within a company is to have hiring completed by diverse committees, rather than individuals. Another process for accountability might be to require blind reviews of resumes and test results before hiring. These procedures can reduce the adverse effects that implicit bias can have on the hiring process.

It’s also possible for your mentoring and promotions to be affected by bias. To ensure everyone in your organization has an equal opportunity to be groomed into leadership positions, you should work to make results-driven decisions, instead of those based on opinion or gut instinct.

The Effects Of Implicit Bias On Culture

Implicit bias can also have detrimental effects on a company’s culture. If you find that you have a culture that is exclusive, closed-minded or divided, that culture can erode trust and create an atmosphere where turnover is high. Communication may also become ineffective or nonexistent. A culture in which implicit bias is a major influence not only prevents a company from obtaining and retaining top talent, but it may also create a downward spiral of costs.

Recognizing the effects of implicit bias before such a spiral can begin is of the utmost importance. Look for healthy communication, regular disagreement (evidence of high trust), and diversity of thought within your teams. Recognize and reward those that are able to set aside their own bias to encourage new ideas and ways of thinking.

Tips On Training

Though we can never completely remove implicit bias from individuals within our companies, or even from within ourselves, we can work to reduce the impact implicit bias can have. First, make sure your leaders understand and can recognize types of implicit bias. Knowing these tendencies can help leaders recognize when they are relying on biases to guide decision-making within your organization.

In a recent Forbes article, Dr. Pragya Agarwal outlines several bias types, including:

  • Affinity Bias – the tendency to be warmer towards people like ourselves
  • Halo Effect – the tendency to think everything good about a person because we like them
  • Perception Bias – the tendency to stereotype certain groups without being able to make objective decisions about them
  • Conformity Bias – a person is most likely to lean towards a particular decision if they sense that more than 75% of their group has a specific view
  • Beauty Bias – a person’s looks, height, and body mass index can cause them to be either preferred over another or looked over.

implicit bias

Helping your leaders recognize and overcome their own implicit biases can help your company thrive and grow. This self-realization can foster greater diversity and growth opportunities. If you’re ready to get your leaders in alignment around overcoming implicit bias, we’d love to help you move your organization forward with the right tools and training you need to promote diversity and inclusion. Our “implicit bias” training is the perfect first step to implement to improve your positive employee relations strategy and ensure a culture of inclusivity. Click here to get started.

About the Author Walter Orechwa

Walter is Director of IRI's Digital Workplace Solutions Group, and the founder of A Better Leader. Walter provides expert advice, highly effective employee communication resources and ongoing learning opportunities for Human Resources and Labor Relations professionals.