How to spot unconscious bias in the workplace

We receive 11 million pieces of information every moment. And, according to Google, we can only consciously process 40 of these pieces. This leaves 99.999996 percent of information to be processed unconsciously. It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that unconscious bias plays such a prominent role in our decision making.

Unconscious bias is when our background, culture and experiences naturally impact on our understanding, actions and decisions. While it’s natural and 100 percent human to have biases, when it comes to the recruitment process, and to business more generally, it’s important to be able to recognise them to make sure we really are making the best decisions possible. How can you spot unconscious bias in the workplace?

There are more than 150 types of identified unconscious bias – could they be impacting your decision making?

Different types of bias

There are more than 150 identified types of unconscious bias, according to a report written by Horace McCormick, of the Kenan-Flagler Business School. Here are some of the most common:

  • Confirmation bias – This is when we unconsciously look for information or evidence to back up a prior-held belief or a judgement we’ve made about someone. This is because we have an inherent wish to believe that we’re right. For instance, if someone thinks a particular action will be best for their company, they’ll then only find evidence that supports that belief.
  • Similarity bias – This is very common in all aspects of our lives, not just at work. It involves a natural desire to surround ourselves with people who we feel are similar.
  • Affinity bias – This is particularly common in the recruitment process. If an interviewer feels they have an affinity with a candidate, for instance if they are from the same place or did the same degree, they will inevitably feel more warmly towards that person. This often involves little things like smiling more, but it can stop the best candidate from being hired.
  • Halo/horns effect – Again, this is common in recruitment – if someone sees one good thing about a person, the halo effect will mean that they think every single other thing about the person is also good. The horns effect is the opposite of this.
  • Conformity bias – Also known as groupthink, if someone feels that the rest of their team are leaning towards one decision, they will agree too.
  • Perception bias – We’re all guilty of this. People naturally form assumptions and stereotypes about certain groups, and that means they can’t make an objective judgement about any one member of that group.

It’s important to recognise unconscious bias so that it doesn’t impact your business decisions and hiring process. If you want to make sure your workplace is diverse and unhindered by unconscious bias, it helps to use a specialist recruitment service who understands the hiring process inside and out. For information, contact the team at Talent today.