14 Examples of Unconscious Bias to Recognize and Overcome

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unconscious bias in hiring discussion

What is unconscious bias (or implicit bias)?

Unconscious or implicit biases are assumptions or beliefs we aren’t aware of. They are standard mental shortcuts that aid in complex decision-making. While the brain constantly processes countless pieces of information, these biases are more hurtful than helpful. 

Opposite of explicit biases, implicit biases lack awareness that actions, words, or decisions are hurtful. They often reveal themselves as microaggressions

In this article, we’ll review several examples of unconscious bias, how they appear in the workplace, and to overcome their toxic impact on our coworkers.

To kick your training up a notch, enroll in one of Coach Diversity institute’s unconscious bias training programs and start shifting your team member’s awareness today! 

14 Examples of Unconscious Bias to Overcome

Unconscious bias comes in many forms. Because there are so many biases, and we can unintentionally hurt various groups of people, it’s critical to bring some awareness to your diverse teams. Here are some types of unconscious bias to overcome in your workplace.

1. Gender Bias

Gender bias, or sexism, is a tendency to favor one gender over another, typically male over female. In business, gender bias takes the form of hiring one gender despite a lack of skills or experience. It’s also apparent in pay gaps, where even in 2022, a woman makes $0.82 per $1 a man makes in uncontrolled pay gap situations. 

A few key actions will help reduce gender bias in workplaces and social settings. For example, businesses can set gender-neutral standards during recruiting, create diversity goals, and identify and close pay gaps. In social settings, valuing the input of all genders is important, so setting qualitative diversity goals will make the difference. 

2. Ageism

Ageism is a stereotype or discrimination based on a person’s age. It can impact older and younger workers, but workers over 40 have protections under federal law. Ageism rears its ugly head when older individuals don’t receive a promotion in favor of a younger employee, despite knowledge or experience. Unfortunately, young workers may experience discrimination during promotions due to a perceived lack of expertise or knowledge. 

Organizations miss out on valuable knowledge and experience by engaging in ageism. But they also run the risk of lawsuits. To avoid ageism, don’t make age-based assumptions like older workers are tech illiterate or younger employees are less dependable. Instead, foster cross-generational collaboration through mentor programs or establish diverse teams with a healthy mix of older and younger employees.  

3. Name Bias

Name bias arises from a tendency to prefer some names over others—usually Anglo-sounding names. Unfortunately, name bias occurs most often during the recruitment process as hiring managers reject job applicants with names that don’t sound Anglo. This bias harms diversity hiring and ultimately leads to a less-inclusive environment

It may seem difficult to remove implicit name bias during the hiring process, but that’s an excuse. It’s actually relatively easy to omit names from applications during screening. You can use technology to help blank out personal information or designate a team member to remove names from applications before the hiring team gets involved. 

4. Beauty Bias

Beauty bias also shows up as weight bias, height bias, or lookism. Basically, beauty bias is the favorable treatment or stereotyping of more attractive individuals. It’s discrimination based on physical appearance. Hiring managers are guilty of beauty bias when hiring individuals they think are good-looking instead of the skills, experience, or cultural fit. 

The easiest way to avoid beauty bias is to omit pictures from resumes and focus on skills or qualifications. It’s also an excellent idea to conduct phone interviews to gauge applicants and avoid physical factors influencing the decision-making process.  

5. Halo Effect

As the name suggests, the halo effect is an overall positive impression based on one characteristic. The halo effect causes someone to inadvertently place an individual on a pedestal despite only having a limited view of that person. An example would be assuming a graduate from an Ivy League school knows how to perform a job better than someone with a less-prestigious degree. By overvaluing one positive trait, countless harmful ones can hide. 

In order to overcome the halo effect, it’s best to conduct multiple interviews. The numerous interviews allow several perspectives to influence the hiring decision. Those conducting interviews should come from a diverse hiring team where individuals won’t have a vested interest in hiring a particular individual and hires for company benefit.

6. Horns Effect

The horns effect is the opposite of the halo effect. It causes negative impressions based on a negative trait, characteristic, or experience. Where the halo effect places individuals on a pedestal, the horns effect unjustly criticizes an individual because of a perceived negative attribute. Putting too much value on a single factor leads to inaccuracies and unfair judgment. 

If the horns effect goes unnoticed, it can damage interactions, cooperation, and trust between leadership and team members. Avoiding the horns effect can only happen when you challenge your initial impressions and take some time to get to know someone. Make decisions about character based on evidence, and look for facts that support or refute your initial impression. 

7. Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias plagues researchers, conspiracy theorists, and hiring managers daily. It happens when there is a tendency to seek out pieces of information that support a particular worldview. Engaging in confirmation bias affects one’s ability to think critically and objectively. Validation is important, but it’s essential to weigh the potential consequences. 

To avoid confirmation bias, you should start with gathering facts from as many sources as possible, even if they don’t support your position. In business, avoiding confirmation bias requires a standard set of questions that every applicant faces. These standardized questions prevent off-topic discussion or unlawful questions. 

8. Conformity Bias

We’re constantly told not to fall for peer pressure, but feeling accepted is human nature. Conformity bias happens when someone changes their opinions, thoughts, or behaviors to match those of the larger group. The outside person feels the pressure to change their stance to fit in with a specific social group, even if it violates their personal beliefs. 

Fighting conformity bias takes some work, but the most significant factor is the use of anonymous voting, surveys, or feedback collection. That allows coworkers to be honest without the pressure of others. It also helps to collect opinions or advice in advance to help process the decision. 

9. Affinity Bias

Also known as similarity bias, affinity bias plays into the tendency to favor those with similar interests, backgrounds, or experiences. Like name bias, affinity bias hampers diversity hiring as hiring managers gravitate towards individuals that share similarities with themselves. 

Affinity bias is exceptionally challenging to reduce because of the “culture fit” aspect. That’s why evaluating what it means to be a culture fit is essential. For example, does the candidate embody company values? How do they align with the company message? By asking these questions and utilizing a diverse hiring team, you can reduce affinity from a single person and become open to those with diverse backgrounds.

10. Contrast Effect

The contrast effect is a method of passing judgment through the use of comparison. These comparisons can get tricky as the assessment can change based on the comparative standard. For example, a review might seem adequate, but when compared with higher-performing individuals, adequate might seem like a failure. 

You should make multiple comparisons to prevent falling victim to the contract effect. The initial comparison might reveal something different than subsequent comparisons. Also, bouncing thoughts off a colleague can help explain how you came to a particular conclusion. 

11. Anchor Bias

Decision-making requires information, but an overreliance on the first piece of information you obtain is anchor bias. Anchor bias affects that decision-making. A practical way to visualize anchor bias is if a job applicant has a gap in employment history, a recruiter might focus on that instead of the skills or qualifications. It would help to look at the whole picture when considering anchor bias. 

Anchor bias comes about when there is limited information. Weigh the pros and cons and brainstorm with coworkers to reveal potential strengths and weaknesses. Ensure that you have thorough research completed before coming to a decision.

12. Authority Bias

Authority bias is how many people followed the Nazi’s extermination plans in WWII. It’s a tendency to see authority as always correct and follow instructions blindly. Unfortunately, authority bias removes critical thinking or engaging in a debate about the future consequences of following that authority. 

Developing an awareness of authority bias starts with asking questions. While it might be scary to posit concerns, it’s important to keep checks on the level of thought given to authority. Do your research about a given topic to identify credible sources or experts.  

13. Recency Bias

Recency bias gives recent events more importance because they are easier to remember. This type of bias comes about when handling large amounts of information and data. For example, a hiring manager might struggle to remember applicants from earlier in the week, but the most recent applicant stands out. Usually, recency bias results in hiring the most recent candidate versus the qualified applicant. 

An excellent practice to avoid recency bias is the habit of detailed note-keeping. With detailed notes, you can review every one to find the best possible choice. You’ll also want to give yourself plenty of mental breaks to prevent burn-out and hasty decisions. 

14. Attribution Bias

Attribution bias is the act of explaining others’ behaviors by referring to their character rather than a situational effect. It’s the act of overestimating personality traits and underestimating the influence of outside circumstances. It might be easy to blame a bad driver on poor character, but without understanding that there might be a reason for bad driving, we automatically assume the worse. 

The best way to head off attribution bias is to practice empathy. We don’t know what’s happening in someone else’s life, and they don’t know what’s happening in ours. Think about what you want others to know about your situations, and judge others on character rather than split actions.

Acknowledge Your Own Unconscious Bias with Coach Diversity Institute

Unconscious biases result from past experiences and teachings, often with devastating consequences for those with various ethnicities, LGBTQ backgrounds, or physical appearances. 

Fortunately, there are ways you can bring awareness of your own unconscious biases and eliminate them from your decision-making processes. Not only will your team feel more accepted, but you’ll unlock benefits you never knew were possible. 

Coach Diversity Institute makes it all possible with certified diversity coach courses. Sign up today and start bringing awareness to those nasty biases that are hurting your performance reviews!