Five Types of Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

Written by ATI Editor
Last updated September 27, 2021

Here at Aspiring to Include, we regularly discuss the impact and consequences of unconscious biases in the workplace. Without realising, we make judgments and decisions based on often incorrect stereotypes or assumptions about other people; when you are in apposition of responsibility in a workplace, such as a recruiter or a manager, this can be especially problematic. 

Unconscious bias leads directly to discrimination and a lack of diversity as it results in a certain type of person being favoured due to assumptions rather than merit. To guarantee a diverse and inclusive workplace, you need to be aware of the different types of unconscious biases and be ready to remove them. 

Five types of unconscious bias 

Name bias 

Name bias is the process of judging somebody and ultimately favouring somebody based on their name. This is usually tied up with racial and cultural prejudices towards certain groups of people. For example, in the UK, many studies find that job applications with stereotypical non-white British names perform worse than the same application submitted with a stereotypical British name. Name bias is one of the ways in which racism manifests and can influence our decisions without us even realising it. 

Gender bias 

This is very similar to name bias, but instead of making a judgment about a person based on their name, gender bias is where you make a judgement based on somebody’s gender. More often than not, this negatively affects women. In the workplace, this can look like assuming a particular role is suitable for a man or a woman, promoting men to more senior positions, and assuming women to be in more caring, emotional roles. 

Affinity bias 

Put simply, affinity bias is the process in which we feel more favourably towards people who are like us or share something in common with us. This is hugely detrimental in workplaces as it means that those in leadership positions, and those in charge of recruiting, can offer positions and opportunities to people who are like them, rather than the person who is best for the role. This results in unfair treatment towards anybody who is different from the crowd. 

Halo effect 

The halo effect is where we transfer positive feelings from one part of a person to them as a whole or to another part of them. For example, suppose a person has a solid academic record or previously worked for a successful company. In that case, we automatically and often incorrectly assume that this means they are talented in all other aspects of their work or that they are a good person. This is a problem in the workplace as a recruiter can be blinded by one impressive aspect of a person. 

Perception bias 

This is perhaps the most general form of bias that occurs in the workplace as it simply refers to treating somebody in a certain way based on perceived truths about who they are, which are usually incorrect stereotypes and assumptions.  

For example, upon hearing that a colleague of yours is openly gay, you may assume qualities and experiences about that person which are not valid. 

To find out more about unconscious bias and how it manifests in the workplace, visit our dedicated guide. 

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Last Updated: Thursday August 19 2021
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