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How to Address Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

Feb 26, 2024

3-minute read


Companies are increasingly prioritising Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEI&B) in their 2024 agenda. However, despite their best intentions, unconscious bias continues to pervade workplaces, exerting its influence on decision-making processes, hiring procedures, and organisational culture. This blog aims to explore the meaning of unconscious bias, its impact in the workplace, and how to avoid it.

What is unconscious bias?

Unconscious bias as defined by Vanderbilt University is ‘prejudice or unsupported judgments in favour of or against one thing, a person, or group as compared to another, in a way that is usually considered unfair.’ These preconceived ideas stem from various factors such as upbringing, life experiences, and cultural beliefs, which shape our decisions and behaviours in ways often beyond our immediate awareness.

There are several ways that unconscious bias can manifest itself. A few common examples include:

  • Affinity bias: this is where the brain is naturally drawn to people who have similar qualities to us. This form of bias is particularly common in the recruitment process and acts as a barrier to diversifying teams.
  • Conformity bias: rather than making your own judgment, you are influenced by the actions and opinions of other people.
  • Contrast effect bias: when someone compares an individual instead of assessing their merits individually, this can happen when having back-to-back candidate interviews.

The impact of unconscious bias in the workplace

Despite the widespread recognition of unconscious bias training in the workplace, with 81% of companies implementing these programs, there is growing sentiment among leaders and employees that these efforts aren’t enough. (The Guardian, 2021). This concern is underscored by findings from a 2019 study by Deloitte, which discovered that 39% of respondents reported experiencing bias every month.

Some effects it can have on the workplace include:

  • Negative impact on the hiring process: hiring candidates based on their traits rather than their qualifications or experience. Research conducted by the Guardian in 2021 found that one in four companies ranked unconscious bias as the number one challenge in the recruitment process. This consequently leads to a lack of diversity in the workplace.
  • Decreased engagement and productivity: employees feel they aren’t being treated fairly and given equal opportunities, for example, managers basing promotions on personal preference rather than qualified candidates.
  • Increased turnover: this leads back to employees feeling they are not being treated fairly and becoming disengaged with the organisation.
  • Lack of inclusion: in the case of neurodiversity, 50% of managers admitted they would feel uncomfortable hiring someone who is neurodivergent (Institute of Leadership and Management, 2020). For example, autistic candidates may be marked down for the lack of eye contact in an interview.

Overcoming unconscious bias

While the complete eradication of unconscious bias is highly unlikely, continuous recognition and self-reflection are key to diminishing it. We have made a short list of practical steps, that will enhance awareness and understanding.

  • Familiarise yourself with the different types of biases and which ones are most likely to affect you: Take the time to evaluate or complete an online assessment, such as the one created by psychologists at Harvard, Washington, and Virginia Universities. It consists of a series of tests that will calculate which of your perceptions are more likely to be governed by unconscious bias.
  • How they can affect your organisation: a review of the current processes, to determine the likelihood of unconscious bias and negate negative outcomes.
  • Modernise hiring processes: review and re-design the wording and structure of job descriptions to be neutral in tone and focus on the skills needed for the role. Standardised interview schedules and consider giving candidates questions in advance.


In conclusion, addressing unconscious bias in the workplace is imperative for fostering an environment of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging (DEI&B). Despite the efforts of companies trying to prioritise these values, unconscious bias is still prevalent and affects several aspects of the workplace and everyday life.

However, overcoming unconscious bias is not an impossible challenge. Recognition and self-reflection are crucial steps, which an organisation can take to familiarise themselves with the potential effects and implement strategies to create a more inclusive workplace.

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