Considering Unconscious Bias in the Workplace


People make decisions every day. It may be as small as what to have for lunch or as great as the conclusion to make a career change.

Unconscious bias refers to the decisions, choices and judgements we make of which we are not fully aware. This happens automatically, triggered by our brain making quick assessments of people and situations based on our experiences, background, and cultural environment. This can influence our rational and can lead to deviations from good judgement to a standard of reasonableness.

Every person holds natural biases and within the workplace, the result is that we could potentially behave unalike toward a person based on our subconscious prejudice. Whilst it is uncommon for people to admit that they have any form of a bias against an individual, there is bias and categorisation which takes place every day. We classify people by gender, ethnicity, disability, body size, and profession. Whilst the majority of people don’t like the idea that they are basing their decisions on a social stereotypes, it normally occurs naturally on instinct.

Life is steered in different directions due to the judgements and choices we make. From a corporate perspective, the choices made are what determines whether a business can be a success or failure. Can unconscious bias really conclude decision making and is if so, is it detrimental to business?

Recent studies by Harvard Business Review have stated the Behavioural Economists & Psychologist have uncovered scores of biases that undermine good decision making. Companies and business are suffering as a result of suboptimal & cognitive decision biases.


How can Unconscious Bias affect the Work Place?

As an Executive Search firm, we have to be vigilant with the Search & Selection process. Research has shown that unconscious bias can have a strong influence on recruitment and selection within companies. Unconscious bias can have an impact not only on the hiring decision, but also the salary and path of development that will be invested into an individual moving forward.

There have been an overwhelming number of studies that have shown the significant impact unconscious biases can have on human capital processes, and potentially lead to forms of institutional discrimination.

There are numerous different consequences resulting from having unconscious bias in the workplace. As outlined above, biased decisions can lead to a company failing to recognise talent and can also have an effect with the business having the inability to exploit new markets effectively as well as the inability to adapt to change and assess risks.


How do we overcome Unconscious Bias?

Many people and organisations now undertake Unconscious Bias training, such as the Harvard Implicit Association Test which helps to measure the level of unconscious bias in each individual.

In an attempt to overcome any unconscious bias, we must re-learn beliefs, redefining what makes a good leader, becoming an advocate for ourselves and others. Treating people as unique individual’s leads to added self-value and the restructuring of cognitive biases.

Organisations need to make their employees and any party involved comfortable about discussing sensitive issues, so they can raise awareness of potential biases, making them easier to control.

Patterns, assumptions and interpretations are internal; they come from within ourselves. Before any changes can be made to a business’s culture, the biases must first be addressed and understood.