Different types of unconscious bias are often defined as stereotypes, prejudices or deeply held beliefs which lead us to favour one thing, person, or group over another, in a way that is usually considered unfair. Everyone’s unconscious bias is different according to the unique social factors which influenced them and formed the individual they are.
Unconscious bias can cloud and undermine decisions. Crucial choices can be made without considering bigger pictures and the true facts of the situations. Unconscious bias holds on to stereotypes and will disregard anyone who fits into these groups. This is enormously damaging for businesses and organisation as it limits diversity and creativity as we shall see form the following examples:
Types of Unconscious Bias
There are different types of unconscious bias examples. Understanding them can help to appreciate how unconscious bias impacts on us all.
Affinity bias – we are more likely to favour people who are like us
Let’s consider this the other way around. If we are more likely to favour people who are like us, what does this mean for the people who are not like us? If you are a manager and you are looking to recruit new staff affinity bias could influence you to consider people similar to you more favourable. Most importantly the flip side of this is you would consider people unlike you unfavourably regardless of their skills and abilities.
Halo effect – The tendency to believe that a person is capable and skilled simply because you like them
Let’s consider the same scenario again. This time the manager is interviewing shortlisted candidates. One of the candidates reminds him of his daughter. He has a great relationship with his daughter. The manager recruits the woman because he likes her based on this familiarity. The halo effect has influenced him into believing because he likes her, this familiar woman is the right person for the job. The halo effect has clouded the decision being based on her skills and abilities.
Perception bias – believing something about an entire group of people based on stereotypes and assumptions
A great example of this, which also highlights how unconscious bias can come into play in a whole host of different ways, is how google reacted when youtube launched their video upload feature. They were confused by 5-10% of the videos being uploaded upside down. Why would so many people be shooting their videos incorrectly? The answer was simple and highlighted the designers’ assumptions. Some people were filming videos with their left hands. As the individuals who designed the feature were right-handed they made an assumption that everyone is right-handed and their way was ‘correct’. They did not consider left-handed users would rotate the screen causing it to appear upside down. This is perception bias.
Confirmation bias – finding reasons and ways to confirm stereotypes and assumptions about a group of people
Let’s talk about women vs men. Some women have babies. Some women are mostly responsible for looking after these babies. Does this make them unreliable and less productive than men in the workplace? Confirmation bias would lead you to seek out information and proof to reinforce this belief and ignore evidence to the contrary. It’s entirely possible for a man to have the same childcare responsibilities and demands as a woman. Confirmation bias stops us looking past the traditional prejudices against women and looking at the bigger picture.
Groupthink – trying too hard to fit into a group or culture
A phrase which is currently becoming more familiar to us all is ‘echo chamber’. Many of us now use social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to post personal views on a variety of topics. Other people then reply and engage in discussion around these topics. We are naturally drawn to people who have similar world views to ourselves, and are less likely to engage with those who don’t. We echo back to one another the same views and opinions without challenge. This can be very damaging not least as it limits discussion but in extreme circumstances, a group may come to hate and distrust people who disagree with them.
Why is understanding unconscious bias important?
Unconscious bias research has shown that whilst in some circumstances it can be harmless with no lasting negative impact, it can also be enormously damaging, especially unconscious bias in the workplace.
Engage in Learning provide online unconscious bias training courses will help you recognise bias, avoid discrimination and support a culture of diversity in the workplace.
- Unconscious Bias for Managers addresses the way implicit bias can affect issues like recruitment, performance management, promotion and team dynamics.
- Unconscious Bias focuses on the impact on customer service interactions with particular focus on the micro-behaviours that aren’t necessarily under our conscious control.
The aim of both courses is to help learners recognise when they might be acting or behaving on the basis of unconscious bias, provide them with ways to challenge those biases and counteract them.
Both courses use thought-provoking and challenging activities to highlight the impact of bias; a range of video scenarios to bring the material to life and help learners relate it to their own workplace; and clear explanations and practical techniques to help learners identify, challenge and counteract their own biases.