Updated: Jun 21
We all like to think that we are fair and impartial in our judgments of others. But the truth is, many of us carry around unconscious biases that can influence our thoughts and actions without us even realizing it. In the workplace, these biases can impact everything from hiring and promotion decisions to day-to-day interactions between coworkers, supervisors, and managers.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at some of the ways that implicit and unconscious biases can harm inclusivity and belonging in an organization, and what we can do to combat them.
What are Implicit and Unconscious Biases?
Implicit biases refer to attitudes or stereotypes that are automatically activated and operate outside of our conscious awareness. These biases can influence our behaviors and perceptions, even if we do not consciously hold prejudiced beliefs.
Unconscious biases are similar to implicit biases, but may also refer to biases that we are not even aware of. These biases can be formed by a variety of factors, including our upbringing, experiences, and exposure to media.
Both implicit and unconscious biases can lead to discriminatory behaviors or attitudes towards individuals or groups and can have a negative impact on social interactions and relationships. Recognizing and addressing these biases in ourselves and in others is essential to promoting equity and fairness in the workplace.
It's important to note that implicit and unconscious biases are not necessarily negative or harmful. In fact, they are a natural part of the human psyche and can serve a useful purpose in certain situations. However, these biases can also lead to unintentional discrimination and exclusion, particularly in the workplace, where they can influence hiring decisions, promotions, and performance evaluations.
The Impact of Implicit and Unconscious Biases on Inclusion and Belonging
Implicit and unconscious biases can significantly affect inclusivity and belonging in an organization. It can lead to a lack of diversity within the organization, as well as feelings of exclusion and a lack of belonging among employees from underrepresented groups. Here are some ways that implicit and unconscious biases affect an organization.
1. Hiring and Promotions
Unconscious biases can affect hiring and promotion decisions. These biases can cause recruiters and hiring managers to favor candidates who are similar to themselves or who share their background, rather than objectively evaluating a candidate’s skills and qualifications.
For example, if an interviewer holds a stereotype that women are not as assertive as men, they may not select a qualified female candidate who demonstrates assertiveness in the interview. This can lead to a lack of diversity in the workforce and contribute to a sense of exclusion for underrepresented groups.
2. Performance Evaluations
Unconscious biases can also affect performance evaluations by influencing the perception of an employee’s performance. For instance, if a supervisor holds a stereotype that older workers are not as adaptable to change as younger workers, they may rate an older employee lower on adaptability despite evidence to the contrary.
In another case, an evaluator may overlook positive aspects of an employee’s performance because they have a preconceived notion that the employee is not capable. These can lead to a lack of recognition and promotion opportunities for older workers, contributing to a sense of exclusion and marginalization.
3. Team Dynamics
Unconscious biases can also affect everyday interactions among coworkers. Coworkers may unconsciously exclude or undervalue colleagues who they judge as incompetent due to the person’s nationality or ethnic group. This can lead to feelings of isolation and a lack of belonging, which can affect employee engagement and productivity.
4. Employee Turnover
When employees feel excluded or undervalued, they are more likely to leave the organization. This can lead to a higher turnover rate, which can be costly for the organization in terms of recruiting and training new employees.
5. Organizational Culture
Implicit bias can also affect the overall organizational culture by influencing the values, norms, and behaviors of employees. If your organization’s leadership is predominantly male, there may be an implicit bias towards masculine traits and values, making it difficult for women to advance into leadership positions. This can create a sense of exclusion and marginalization for women, leading to a lack of diversity in the organization.
6. Customer Interaction
Biases can result in employees treating customers differently based on their race, gender, or other characteristics. For example, a salesperson may, based on his perception of a customer’s race or physical appearance, assume that the customer cannot afford a particular product and thus may treat them unfairly or not bother marketing the product to the prospect. This could lead to negative customer experiences and, ultimately, a loss of business.
Steps to Promote Inclusion and Diversity in the Workplace
To address implicit and unconscious biases, you need to take deliberate steps to promote inclusivity and diversity in the workplace. Here are a few steps you can take.
1. Diversity Training
The nature of implicit bias make it difficult to be detected. So the first step to addressing implicit biases is to create awareness about them and the impact they could have in your organization. You should provide diversity training for all your employees, including managers and executives. Diversity training can help your employees recognize and mitigate their own biases and promote understanding and empathy toward different perspectives.
2. Fair and Equitable Hiring and Promotion Processes
Managers and company executives should ensure that their company’s hiring and promotion processes are fair and equitable. You can achieve this by using objective criteria, blind resumes, diverse interview panels, and inclusive job descriptions that avoid gendered language and biases.
3. Promote a Culture of Inclusion
Promote a culture of inclusion that values diversity and different perspectives. This includes providing support and resources for underrepresented groups and promoting open communication and collaboration among all employees.
4. Conscious Leadership
Leaders in your organization need to be conscious of their own biases and actively work to overcome them. They can do this through self-reflection and seeking feedback from others to identify and address blind spots.
Managing implicit and unconscious biases while fostering an inclusive workplace culture can be a daunting task. However, with the right team and support in place, it becomes much easier. That's where FIC Human Resource Partners comes in. We've developed the NUANCE approach to help organizations align their culture and values, and create an inclusive culture of belonging.
Interested in learning more? Don't hesitate to reach out. We'd be happy to guide you through our Nuance Culture Consulting™ service and how this approach can help your organization build a successful culture of belonging that allows your employees to thrive and your company to succeed.