In our increasingly diverse and interconnected world, it is crucial to recognise and address subconscious biases both in the workplace and in our personal lives. These invisible reservations shape our interactions, choices and opportunities, while often unintentionally limiting inclusivity and reinforcing an inequality. In a society that strives for fairness and equality, addressing unconscious bias is not only important - it is an absolute necessity. Because it is costly. A 2017 Harvard Business Review/University of Chicago study estimated that employee dissatisfaction is one of the consequences that cost companies in the US $450 billion to $550 billion annually.
Understanding unconscious bias can help us break down barriers, foster diverse thinking (and to ensure innovation) and create a more inclusive and productive environment. But first, what exactly is unconscious bias?

Unconscious bias – a definition

Unconscious bias, also known as implicit bias, refers to the automatic and often unintentional stereotypes or judgements we have about others based on their identity, such as ethnical background, gender, age or appearance, which can influence our decisions and behaviour - without us being aware of it. It is like a hidden influence that affects our interactions with others and our perception of the world (usually negatively).

Common Forms of Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

First, recognising and understanding common forms of unconscious bias is crucial to creating a more equitable and inclusive work environment. This is because there are a number of different biases that significantly shape perceptions and behaviour in organisations. Understanding these biases enables organisations to develop strategies and actions to mitigate their negative effects and promote a more inclusive and diverse work environment.

  • Stereotyping: Stereotyping is when individuals make assumptions or generalisations about someone based on their membership in a particular group.
  • Affinity Bias: Affinity Bias occurs when individuals have a preference for people who are similar to them in terms of background, experiences, or interests, which can lead to favouritism or exclusion of others.
  • Confirmation Bias: Confirmation Bias is the tendency to seek out or interpret information in a way that confirms pre-existing beliefs or biases.
  • Halo Effect: The Halo Effect is when an individual's positive qualities or attributes in one area influence the perception of their abilities or qualities in other areas.
  • Horns Effect: The Horns Effect is the opposite of the Halo Effect, where one negative characteristic or action of an individual leads to an overall negative perception of their abilities or qualities.
  • Gender Bias: Gender Bias refers to the tendency to favour or discriminate against individuals based on their gender, often resulting in unequal treatment or opportunities.
  • Age Bias: Age Bias occurs when individuals are treated differently or stereotyped based on their age, whether it is favouring younger or older individuals.
  • Cultural Bias: Cultural Bias involves the preference or prejudice towards individuals from a particular culture, leading to differential treatment or assumptions based on cultural background.

These are the most common prejudices, but this list is not exhaustive. This is to promote an idea of the magnitude of the impact unconscious bias can have in your organisation. So let's take a look at these very effects.

The Impact of Unconscious Bias on Workplace

The effects of unconscious bias are subtle, but they have a significant impact on the work environment. The unfair treatment of qualified employees due to bias of any kind can affect team dynamics and create an unhelpful or even hostile work environment (toxic workplace). It attacks an organisation at its core: its employees and also its culture.

Negative Effects on Individual and Organisational Performance

Unconscious bias can lead to biassed decision-making, resulting in unfair treatment of employees and hindering individual performance. Biassed evaluations and promotions based on unconscious bias can contribute to a lack of recognition and advancement opportunities for certain individuals, ultimately impacting overall organisational performance.

Effects on Recruitment and Hiring Process

This can further influence the hiring and recruitment process, leading to the selection of candidates who fit the biassed stereotypes rather than those who are truly qualified. This perpetuates homogeneity within the workforce and limits the diversity of perspectives and ideas, which in turn primarily hinders innovation and growth.

Communication Difficulties

It also affects communication dynamics in the workplace by creating barriers and misunderstandings between people with different backgrounds or identities. Biassed assumptions and stereotypes lead to misinterpretation, exclusion or unequal participation in discussions and decision-making processes. This is where so-called "inclusive communication" comes in, read our article on this topic here.

Reduced Diversity and Inclusion

Unconscious bias is equally an obstacle to promoting diversity and inclusion in an organisation. Bias in hiring, promotions and team assignments can lead to under-representation of certain groups, perpetuating imbalances and thereby limiting the benefits of a diverse workforce.

Lower Employee Morale and Retention

When employees experience or perceive bias in the workplace, it can lead to decreased morale and job satisfaction. Unaddressed unconscious bias contributes to a toxic work environment, resulting in increased turnover and difficulties in attracting and retaining diverse talent. In other words, the exact opposite of a positive employee experience.

In summary, unconscious bias in the workplace has wide-ranging effects. It impacts individual experiences, performance, organisational culture, diversity, and inclusion efforts. Recognizing and addressing unconscious bias is crucial for creating a fair, inclusive, and high-performing workplace that values and leverages the diverse talents and perspectives of its employees.

Strategies to Overcome Unconscious Bias

In order to create a workplace that is truly inclusive and equitable, there are several strategies that can be implemented to overcome unconscious bias. By embracing these strategies, we can foster an environment where diversity thrives and individuals are valued for their unique contributions:

Raising Awareness Through Training and Education

By providing comprehensive training and education on unconscious bias, we can raise awareness among employees and leaders. This helps individuals recognise their own biases and understand the impact they have on decision-making and interactions. Through knowledge and self-reflection, we can actively challenge and overcome unconscious bias.

Creating Diversity and Inclusion Programs and Policies

Organisations can establish dedicated programs and policies that promote diversity and inclusion. By actively seeking diverse perspectives and creating opportunities for underrepresented groups, we can break down barriers and foster an inclusive environment where everyone feels valued and supported.

Implementing Unbiased Recruitment and Hiring Processes

And that starts with recruiting. To reduce bias here, it is important to introduce bias-free processes. This includes removing identifying information from CVs, using diverse hiring panels and using structured interviews. By putting qualifications and skills first and avoiding unconscious bias, we can give all candidates a fair chance.

Encouraging Open Communication and Feedback

Creating a culture of open communication and feedback allows individuals to share their experiences and perspectives. Encouraging honest discussions about bias and its impact fosters a supportive environment where biases can be acknowledged and addressed constructively.

Fostering a Culture of Empathy and Understanding

By fostering a culture of empathy and understanding, we can create an environment where individuals genuinely listen and seek to understand one another. Encouraging empathy allows us to challenge assumptions, break down stereotypes, and build stronger relationships based on mutual respect.

Utilising Data-Driven Decision Making

Data-driven decision making helps mitigate unconscious bias by relying on objective information. By analysing data related to performance, promotions, and compensation, organisations can identify and rectify any biases that may be present in these processes, promoting fairness and equality.

Promoting Mentorship and Sponsorship Programs

Mentorship and sponsorship programs can play a vital role in overcoming unconscious bias. Pairing individuals from diverse backgrounds with mentors or sponsors who can offer guidance and advocate for their professional growth helps break down barriers and creates equal opportunities for advancement.


Dealing with unconscious bias in the workplace is of utmost importance in today's diversified and interconnected world. The future requires continuous efforts to uncover and combat these hidden influences in order to promote diverse thinking and create a more inclusive and productive work environment.
Tackling unconscious bias is an ongoing process that requires continuous commitment and effort. Both employers and employees have a role to play in addressing unconscious bias and should take proactive measures such as those presented in this article.
By implementing these strategies, employers and employees can work together to break down barriers, promote diversity and create a work environment where everyone is valued for their unique contribution, regardless of their background. A place characterised by inclusivity, equality and the power of diverse perspectives. Ultimately, a place where people enjoy coming together and working collaboratively.

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