Unconscious Bias in the Workplace: What You Need to Know

by | Mar 18, 2022 | Blog

The Great Resignation is wreaking havoc on so many businesses. Organizations are facing high turnover, low engagement, and general employee dissatisfaction at work. Leaders have to figure out how to reverse these trends and reengage their employees.

One area that leaders always have the power to improve is organizational culture. Mainly, leaders will find employee ROI by strengthening diversity, equity, and inclusion at work.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts focus on combating unconscious bias in the workplace and building a safe and supportive environment for everyone. Major companies like Salesforce, Asana, and others have been investing in building these competencies to help their workforces become aware of the unconscious biases they hold and how they affect the company, their peers, and work teams.

If you’ve never heard of unconscious bias before, this phrase may be a little murky. What is unconscious bias, and how does it affect workplace culture?


What is Unconscious Bias?

The basics of bias are this: Biases are judgments and assumptions based on our past experiences in the world.

Some biases are conscious, meaning that you are aware of them. Other biases are unconscious, meaning that you are unaware that you have them. These are called unconscious biases.

Everyone has biases; they’re how we make sense of the world. Our biases develop from previous life events and experiences. Often they’ve been with us since childhood.

Sometimes, our environments and the people around us teach us to hold biases against other people based on their diverse identities.

For example, some assume that older people cannot keep up with new technologies. Some believe that all women lack skills in math and science. Others see people of color as less competent than white people solely because of their diverse backgrounds.

These kinds of biases are often unconscious biases. Meaning many people aren’t purposely buying into or perpetuating these stereotypes. They may even assert they believe the opposite of them! 

Regardless of our conscious statements of belief, these unconscious biases still influence our attitudes and behaviors – and that affects the people we interact with daily, who we hire, and how each of us experiences our work environments.


How Unconscious Bias Impacts the Workplace

Unintended racism, sexism, and other forms of unconscious bias can present themselves in many ways in the workplace.

Unconscious bias often shows up in hiring practices. Your hiring team may hold biases against candidates of a particular ethnicity. They might turn away any candidate who doesn’t have a bachelor’s degree or a specific level of education, regardless of their experience. 

HR professionals may believe that these candidates don’t have the proper training for the job or wouldn’t be a culture fit in your organization. 

However, it could be their unconscious biases manifesting as exclusive behavior.


Within the workplace itself, people from marginalized communities can face unfair treatment during the workday. Even when they perform the requirements of their position to the same level as their peers, unconscious biases can cause their supervisor to judge their work too harshly or deem it unsatisfactory.

Affinity biases are another form of unconscious bias. They cause us to seek out other people who are like us. If you have a colleague who does not have much in common with you, you may avoid them in the office or pass them over for professional opportunities without realizing it.

Unconscious biases can affect pay equity as well as interpersonal relationships. People from marginalized communities are less likely to be promoted and offered raises than their peers. Pay discrepancies have significant negative implications for their lifetime earnings.


How to Fight Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

Fortunately, there is a way to overcome unconscious bias in the workplace. The first step is becoming aware of your unconscious biases. After all, you can’t fix a problem until you know that the problem exists! Then, you can implement strategies to fight their effects on your workplace.


Make Unconscious Biases Conscious

After you do the self-work on your unconscious biases advocate for corporate unconscious bias training, organization-wide diversity training can be a significant first step in helping your colleagues identify their unconscious biases. It will teach them about the cultural conditioning we’ve all had during our lives. It will also show them how to identify the role that unconscious bias plays in the workplace.

Additionally, investing in DEI training builds a shared vocabulary among your colleagues. A shared vocabulary allows you to talk about your experiences in ways that everyone will understand.


Listen and Share

Be prepared to have authentic conversations among your staff about your experiences in the world. Unlearning unconscious biases requires deep listening and openness to the experiences of others.



Look at the ways your workplace norms may be upholding unconscious biases. For example, in your hiring descriptions, you may be requiring candidates to hold a bachelor’s degree for jobs that don’t need it. Maybe you have very diverse entry-level staff, but all your executive-level staff are people who hold the same identities as each other.

Most workplaces have overlooked inequities in their policies and frameworks. Find yours and fix them.


Make DEI a Priority

Finally, make DEI a focus across your organization, not just in your human resources department. Everyone in your organization contributes to the culture of the workplace. It only follows that everyone should make an effort to make company culture as inclusive, intersectional, and equitable as possible.

Digging into these inequities can be challenging. Hiring an honest, engaging, and personable consultant to help you through this process will make it as successful as possible. Risha Grant is an impactful speaker and consultant on diversity and inclusion, and her clients have amazing things to say about her work.


Build Your Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategy Today

Everyone has to deal with unconscious bias in the workplace. It’s up to us to learn about our biases, make them conscious, and remove their effect on our workplaces.

Are you ready to make a change in your workplace? Take a look at Risha’s consulting options today to find the one that is the best fit for you and your organization!


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