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Types of Biases in the Workplace


Unchecked negative prejudgments can lead to discriminatory practices and toxic workplaces. That’s why awareness is an imperative first step to overcoming bias.

Truth be told, everyone has biases and they show up pretty much everywhere – including work.


Unconscious bias (that is subconscious thoughts or attributes that affect the way we think) manifests in assumptions about ability, decisions on promotions, how new ideas are received, how disagreements are perceived, collaboration between employees and more.


Common types of bias in the workplace are:


Affinity Bias

Affinity bias is a tendency to favor people with similar interests, backgrounds and experiences. With affinity bias, people gravitate toward others who seem to be like them. The problem with affinity bias is it can create like-minded groups that favor themselves to the detriment of “others.” At work, it can show up in who is hired, rewarded and promoted. Affinity bias is often defined as “cultural fit.”


Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is looking for evidence to confirm what we already believe. For example, if someone were to believe people with green shirts are more attractive than people without green shirts, every time they see a good-looking person wearing green, it’s “proof.” Evidence that may be counter is dismissed or ignored entirely. At work, confirmation bias can lead to differing perspectives shut out of decision-making.


Age Bias

Age bias assumes common characteristics among age groups. An example is the assumption that older people are not good at technology or young people do not have good work ethic. At work, this bias could lead to not hiring a younger candidate assuming they have not gained enough experience yet or passing up an older person for a promotion with the assumption retirement is on the horizon.


The Halo Effect

This form of unconscious bias occurs when an overall positive impression of someone is determined based on a single quality or trait. For example, a hiring manager could assess that a candidate is competent because they graduated from an Ivy League school. The Halo Effect can be damaging in this instance because there are a number of other factors that impact job performance. Candidates from other schools or without a similar level of education could be discounted despite having equal or better ability.


The Horns Effect

The opposite of The Halo Effect, The Horns Effect is an overall negative impression based on a single quality or trait. For example, if a candidate was late to a job interview, the impression left is they are uncommitted, lazy and will not excel. When, in actuality, there may be a very valid reason they were late that has nothing to do with their ability to thrive in the role.


The list of biases goes on and on to include gender bias, authority bias, name bias, attribution bias, recency bias, beauty bias and so much more that unconsciously affect objective decision-making.


Unchecked negative prejudgments can lead to discriminatory practices and toxic workplaces. That’s why awareness is an imperative first step to overcoming bias. Then, active and intentional follow up should include identifying and removing bias in policies and practices to create a more inclusive and equitable workplaces.


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