19 Examples of Unconscious Bias and How to Avoid Them [2023] • Asana (2023)


Unconscious biases are learned assumptions, beliefs, or attitudes that we are not necessarily aware of. While prejudice is a normal part of how the human brain works, it can often reinforce stereotypes. To combat unconscious bias, learn about the different types of bias, how it can arise at work, and how to avoid it so you can create a more inclusive and diverse workplace.

Whether we realize it or not, our unconscious biases affect our work lives, from the way we think to the way we interact with colleagues. Unconscious biases are mental shortcuts that aid in decision making as the brain processes millions of pieces of information.information per second.

However, these biases can lead to distorted judgments and reinforce stereotypes, doing more harm than good for companies when it comes to hiring and making decisions.

It is particularly important to be aware of these biases during your studies.recruitment processas they can influence the success of your future team.

To help you identify and combat unconscious bias in the workplace, we've covered 19 examples of unconscious bias and strategies to prevent it. When you take steps to reduce bias, you can improve inclusion, trust, and productivity in your organization.

What is unconscious bias?

Unconscious bias, also known as implicit bias, is a learned assumption, belief, or attitude that exists in the subconscious. Everyone has these biases and uses them as mental shortcuts to process information faster.

Implicit biases develop over time as we gain life experiences and are exposed to various stereotypes.

RespectivelyKirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, "These biases, which include both favorable and unfavorable evaluations, are activated unintentionally and without conscious knowledge or intentional control on the part of the individual."

19 Examples of Unconscious Bias and How to Avoid Them [2023] • Asana (1)

As a result, unconscious biases can have a huge impact on our limiting beliefs and behaviors. When this translates into our work lives, it can affect how we hire, interact with colleagues, and make business decisions.

If not properly addressed, these biases can negatively impact an organization's workplace culture and team dynamics.

Although these biases are common, you can reduce their impact with awareness and effort. By knowing and understanding the different types of bias, you can find ways to combat it.

See: The Leader's Guide to Change

Types of unconscious prejudices

Unconscious biases manifest in different ways and have different consequences. Some prejudices arise when judging people's appearance, some stem from preconceived notions, and others are created by logical fallacies. We examine these common misconceptions in detail below.

1. Gender bias

19 Examples of Unconscious Bias and How to Avoid Them [2023] • Asana (2)

Gender bias, which favors one gender over another, is often referred to as sexism. This bias occurs when someone unconsciously associates certain stereotypes with different genders.

This type of bias can affect hiring practices and relationship dynamics within the organization. An example of this hiring bias is when the hiring body favors male candidates over female candidates, despite the fact that they have similar skills and work experience.

Another well-known example is the gender pay gap. As of 2021, the average median salary for men is around18% higherlike the female.

Gender bias can reduce employment opportunities and career advancement for certain populations.

How to avoid gender bias

Here are some ways to create a more gender diverse workplace:

  • Set gender-neutral recruiting standards: define the profile of the ideal candidate in advance and evaluate all candidates against these standards.

  • Create diversity goals: Set qualitative goals for gender diversity to create a more balanced team. Support and provide resources for women to assume leadership roles.

Read: Why you should care about diversity and inclusion

2. Change

Ageism refers to stereotyping or discriminating against others because of their age, which usually happens to older employees.

Although workers over the age of 40 are protected from workplace discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, filing a lawsuit against an employer can be a lengthy and expensive process.

Since not everyone applies, ageism remains a widespread problem. OneAARP surveyfound that nearly 60% of workers age 45 and older have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace.

An example of age bias is when an older team member was passed over for a promotion that ultimately went to a younger team member with less seniority and experience.

Companies that discriminate based on age may miss out on the valuable knowledge and experience that older workers bring to the table. There can also be serious legal ramifications if a team member decides to file a lawsuit alleging workplace discrimination.

How to avoid age discrimination

Preventing age discrimination includes addressing age-related stereotypes, as well as engaging older team members in the workplace. Here are some ways to do this:

  • Don't make assumptions based on age: For example, don't automatically assume that older workers don't know how to use technology or aren't willing to learn new skills. Provide equal learning opportunities for all.

  • Foster cross-generational collaboration: Create two-way mentoring programs that pair an experienced team member with a new hire. This type ofCollaboration facilitates communicationbetween team members of different phases, which can help eliminate misunderstandings about age.

3. Distortion of names

Name bias is the tendency to prefer certain names over others, usually Anglo-sounding names.

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Name bias is the most common in recruiting. When a recruiter tends to offer interviews to applicants with Anglo-Saxon names rather than equally qualified applicants with non-Anglo-Saxon names, that bias exists.

Name bias can negatively impact hiring diversity and cause companies to lose out on talented candidates.

How to avoid name distortions

A simple solution to avoid name bias is to omit applicant names from the selection. To do this you can:

  • Use software: Use blind hire software to block candidates' personal information on resumes.

  • Do it manually: Hire a representative to remove personal information from recruiting team resumes.

4. Beauty bias

Beauty bias refers to preferential treatment and positive stereotyping of people who are considered more attractive. This also gave rise to the term "Look’, which is discrimination based on physical appearance.

An example of a beauty bias is a hiring manager who is more inclined to hire applicants they think are good-looking.

Hiring decisions should be based on skills, experience, and cultural fit rather than appearance.

How to avoid beauty bias

Here are some ways to avoid imperfections when selecting candidates:

  • Avoid resume photos: When choosing resumes, focus on the candidate's qualifications and experience.

  • Conduct a Phone Screening: Before scheduling an interview, consider conducting a short phone interview to get to know the candidate better without being swayed by their appearance.

5. Halo Effect

The halo effect, a term coined by psychologist Edward Thorndike in the 1920s, occurs when we develop an overall positive impression of someone based on one of their traits or characteristics.

This effect can cause us to inadvertently put people on a pedestal while building a picture of a person based on limited information.

An example of this effect on recruiting is when a hiring manager sees that a candidate has graduated from a respected school and assumes that they are excellent at their job.

This halo is based on the hiring manager's academic preferences. However, the school attended is not necessarily the determining factor of professional competence.

By focusing too much on a positive trait, we can overlook negative behavior that could be detrimental to the company, for example, if a candidate was fired for misconduct in a previous role.

How to avoid the halo effect

To reduce the impact of the halo effect, you can experiment with different interview strategies:

  • Conduct multiple interviews: Set up multiple rounds of interviews for candidates with different levels of leadership. In this way, a candidate can be evaluated from multiple perspectives.

  • Diversify your interview team: It can be helpful to assign someone from a different team to interview the candidate because you have less reason to "halo" since you're not working directly with them.

6. Horn effect

The horn effect is the opposite of the halo effect. This bias causes us to have a negative impression of someone based on a trait or experience.

Placing too much emphasis on a single trait or interaction with someone can lead to inaccurate and unfair judgments about their character.

For example, a new team member thinks thatconstructive criticismreceived from his manager is harsh and he assumes that his manager is a critical and strict person.

Left unchecked, the effects of cuckolding can erode cohesion and trust among team members.

This is how you avoid the horn effect

To reduce the effect of horns when interacting with other people, try the following:

  • Question your first impressions: Take the time to get to know someone to develop a more concrete overall impression.

  • Make evidence-based judgments: Ask yourself how your first impression of someone was formed, and find evidence to support or refute that impression based on subsequent interactions.

7. Confirmation bias

19 Examples of Unconscious Bias and How to Avoid Them [2023] • Asana (3)

Confirmation bias is the tendency to seek and use information that confirms one's own beliefs and expectations. In other words, selective information to validate specific points.

This affects our ability to think critically and objectively, which can lead to distorted interpretations of information and overlooking information with opposing viewpoints.

For example, a product developer presents a product idea for the sports market. While market research shows little interest in the product, they are trying to validate the idea by reaching out to other athletes they know will support them.

While validation of a current idea is rewarded, it is important to consider the potential consequences of promoting the idea.

How to avoid confirmation bias

Here are some ways to reduce confirmation bias:

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  • Gather multiple sources – Anytime you're testing a hypothesis or doing research, gather information from a variety of sources to get a balanced perspective.

  • standardizeinterview questions: When recruiting new talent, create a list of standard interview questions to avoid off-topic or unique questions that may or may not confirm your beliefs about a candidate.

Read: Inclusion starts on day one: 10 ways to create an inclusive onboarding experience

8. Compliance bias

Conformity bias is similar to groupthink that occurs when we change our opinions or behaviors to fit the larger group, even if it doesn't reflect our own opinion.

This bias can arise when we face peer pressure or try to fit in with a certain social group or professional environment.

For example, a team decides between two proposals. One person likes suggestion A better, but the rest of the team gravitates toward suggestion B. This person is swayed by her opinion and ends up voting for suggestion B because everyone else did.

While compliance can help avoid conflict, it can also limit creativity, encourage discussion, and expose other perspectives.

How to avoid compliance bias

Here are some ways to encourage honest opinions in the workplace:

  • Use Anonymous Polls or Polls – The option to provide feedback anonymously allows the freedom to express opinions without worrying about the likes of others.

  • Ask for feedback early: Before you attend a meeting, talk privately with each team member to get their input. This gives everyone plenty of time to think about a topic and express their thoughts without the pressure of presenting in front of colleagues.

9. Affinity bias

Affinity bias, also known as similarity bias, refers to the tendency to favor people with similar interests, backgrounds, and experiences. We tend to feel more comfortable around people like us.

This bias can influence hiring decisions. For example, a hiring manager will gravitate towards a job seeker because they share the same alma mater.

Over time, affinity bias in hiring can undermine a company's diversity and inclusion efforts.

How to avoid affinity bias

While it may not be possible to completely eliminate affinity bias, there are ways to reduce its impact:

  • Create a diverse hiring corps: Interviewing diverse people with different perspectives and interests can help reduce an individual's affinity bias.

  • Go beyond culture-fit hiring: The more hiring managers have in common with candidates, the more likely they are to rate them as culture-fit. But the term "culturally appropriate" is vague and can mean different things to different people. To fairly evaluate candidates, use specific language and examples when providing feedback about them. Describe how they embody company values ​​or align with company missions.

10. Contrast effect

We often make judgments by making comparisons. As a result, our judgments can be biased based on the standard to which we compare something. This is called the contrast effect.

For example, a team member is pleased to receive a "meets expectations" on their performance review. However, they begin to feel inadequate after realizing that most of their peers have "exceeded expectations" in their reviews.

Even with proper evaluation, the team member judges himself more critically, as his benchmark is the results of his colleagues.

There can also be positive contrast effects that occur when something is perceived as better than normal because it is compared to something worse.

To avoid the contrast effect

Here are some strategies to try when using comparisons to make decisions:

  • Make multiple comparisons: Instead of jumping to a conclusion after making a comparison, compare something against different standards to broaden your perspective.

  • Instead, explain to your colleagues how you came to a certain conclusion so they can understand your point of view.

11. The State of Partiality

This bias describes our preference for things to be or stay as they are, which can lead to resistance to change.

Following the status quo is a safer option and requires less effort, but it also leads to stagnation. As the business landscape continues to change, change is required for business longevity and innovation.

An example of status quo bias at a company is continuing to hire team members from the same demographic without making an effort to advance diversity goals.

If you repeatedly adopt the same hiring practices, you may miss out on great candidates who can bring new ideas and perspectives to your company.

How to avoid the status quo bias

Here are some ways to challenge the status quo:

  • Use the framing effect: We often follow the status quo to avoid a loss that we value more than gain. The framing effect is to view the default option as a loss to encourage exploration of alternative options as a gain.

  • Encourage Innovative Thinking – Create an environment that celebrates creativity and innovation. Be open to change so your team can continue to push the status quo forward.

12. Anchor preload

Anchor bias occurs when we place too much trust in the first information we receive as an anchor for our decision making. This makes us see things from a narrow perspective.

For example, the first thing a recruiter learns about a candidate they are interviewing is that they have been unemployed for the past year. The recruiter focuses on this fact and not on the candidate's strong qualifications and skills.

Rather than rely on one piece of information to make a decision, it's important to look at the big picture.

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How to avoid anchor distortion

It takes time to make a well-considered decision. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Do your research: the first option is not always the best. Explore different possible options and their advantages and disadvantages before deciding.

  • Brainstorm with your team: Discussing a particular decision with your teammates can help uncover the strengths and weaknesses of a plan.

13. Distortion of authority

19 Examples of Unconscious Bias and How to Avoid Them [2023] • Asana (4)

Authority bias refers to the tendency to believe and follow the instructions of authority figures.

In general, it's a good idea to follow a trusted authority figure with relevant experience. However, blindly following a leader's instructions without critical thinking of your own can lead to problems later.

For example, if a team member implicitly follows his manager's instructions to write a report in a way that reflects the manager's views, this could compromise the integrity of the report.

If you receive instructions in an area outside of your manager's area of ​​expertise, it may be worth seeking additional information or expertise to minimize any potential problems that may arise.

How to avoid authority bias

As with many unconscious biases, developing an awareness of the bias is a good first step in combating it.

How to avoid being influenced by authority bias:

  • Ask Questions: Don't be afraid to ask your manager or company director questions. The level of detail they provide can be an indicator that an idea is well thought out or if your authority is coming into play.

  • Do your own research: Do your own research on a specific topic to find other credible sources or experts and see if your suggestions match up with your manager's suggestions.

Read: Leadership vs Management: What is the difference?

14. Overconfidence

Overconfidence bias is the tendency for people to believe that they are better at certain skills and abilities than they really are.

This misjudgment of our skill level, based on an illusion of knowledge or control, can lead us to make rash decisions.

For example, an overconfident CEO decides to acquire a startup that he believes has high potential and high returns, even though its performance suggests otherwise.

Past successes or achievements can lead to an inflated ego. While it's good to lead with confidence, it's important that it doesn't interfere with logical thinking and decision making.

How to avoid overconfidence

Here are some tips to follow when making decisions:

  • Consider the consequences: The decisions you make can affect your business. Before committing to a decision, determine all the possible outcomes to ensure that you are prepared.

  • Ask for feedback – Whether it's about your performance or your ideas, getting feedback from your team can help you identify areas for improvement. Constructive criticism can keep egos in check.

Read: How to Give and Receive Constructive Criticism

15. Perceptual distortion

Perception bias occurs when we judge or treat others based on stereotypes and often inaccurate and overly simplistic assumptions about the group they belong to. It can include other biases such as gender, age, and appearance.

This type of bias can lead to social exclusion, discrimination and a general lowering of a company's diversity goals.

Suppose a team member refuses to invite a coworker to an after-work social event because he assumes he or she would not share similar interests with the group.

Perception bias can make it difficult to objectively understand members of different groups.

How to avoid perception bias

To reduce the effects of perception bias, you need to recognize your biases:

  • Challenge your assumptions: Ask yourself, "How well do I really know this person or the group they belong to?" Don't let preconceived notions get in the way of meeting or including new people.

  • Think about the accuracy of the statements: If you find yourself using strong words like "everyone," "always," and "never" to describe a particular group, stop and take a moment to reflect by asking yourself how accurate the description is.

16. Spurious correlation

An illusory correlation is when we associate two variables, events, or actions, even if they are not related.

For example, a hiring manager asks a candidate questions during a job interview to learn about their personality, but it has nothing to do with the job itself. As the candidate struggles to find answers, the hiring manager decides he wouldn't be a good fit.

These illusions can lead us to make decisions based on imprecise correlations.

How to avoid illusory correlation bias

We are more likely to see false correlations in circumstances with which we are unfamiliar or know little about.

Here are some tips to avoid illusory correlations:

  • Educate yourself: As you learn more about areas you are unfamiliar with, you may find evidence to support or refute the correlation.

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  • Consider all possibilities: When associating two things, consider the probability of cause and effect. you can use one toocontingency tableMake visible the connections between cause and effect.

17. It affects heuristics

heuristicsThey are mental shortcuts that help us make decisions more efficiently. The affect heuristic occurs when we rely on our emotions to make decisions. This can help us reach a conclusion more quickly, even if it is not always accurate or fair.

For example, a candidate makes an offhand comment that insults the recruiter when that was not the intent. The recruiter decides to reject the candidate because the comment irritated him even though he was the most qualified candidate.

Because emotions can cloud your judgment, it's important not to make decisions in the heat of the moment.

How to avoid theuric-affective bias

Here are some ways to lessen the impact of emotions in different circumstances:

  • Be Aware of Your Emotions: Simply being aware of our emotions in a situation allows us to withdraw from the situation and evaluate it more logically.

  • Take time to think: Think about an event some time after the event. Your emotions may not be as strong as they were during the event, allowing you to come to a more objective conclusion.

18. Recency bias

Recency bias occurs when we place more importance on recent events than on past events because they are easier to remember.

This distortion is more likely to occur when we have a large amount of information to process. For example, because hiring managers often review a large number of applications in a day, it can be more difficult to remember successful candidates earlier in the day.

Novelty bias can also manifest itself during the interview process, when a hiring manager is more inclined to make hiring decisions based on the last candidate interviewed.

To overcome this bias, it may be helpful to use memory enhancement techniques.

How to avoid recency bias

Here are some tips to avoid recency bias when interviewing candidates:

  • Take Notes – Take detailed notes during each interview and review them afterwards. This can help you keep track of top candidates, regardless of when you interviewed them.

  • Give yourself mental breaks: Doing back-to-back interviews can be mentally draining. If your working memory is taking its toll, you're more likely to be affected by recency bias. Stay mentally alert by taking breaks between interviews to give your brain time to absorb and remember information.

19. Idiosyncratic reviewer bias

Idiosyncratic rater bias affects how we rate the performance of others. We often rank others based on our subjective interpretations of the evaluation criteria and our own definition of what "success" means.

In other words, we are generally not trustworthy when it comes to rating other people. The survey showed that approximately60% of a manager's ratingit is a reflection of the manager rather than the evaluating employee.

For example, a manager who excelsproject managementhe has higher standards for that skill and gives teammates more rigorous grades for that skill. On the other hand, the manager is more lenient in evaluating the marketing skills of the team members, since they have less knowledge in this area.

Read: 25 essential project management skills you need to succeed

Sources of rater bias can be other biases, such as the Halo effect, affinity bias, and confirmation bias.

How to avoid idiosyncratic rater bias

Here are some strategies to avoid this bias in performance reviews:

  • Define specific and clear evaluation criteria: Create a rubric or a specific set of standards to evaluate performance. This leads to managers providing supporting evidence based on a team member's performance or achievements to determine how well they have been doing.

  • Carry out multi-rater assessments: In this process, a team member receives feedback from colleagues and supervisors in addition to a self-assessment. Having multiple assessments available can help managers gain a more holistic view of a team member's performance and identify potential areas for growth.

Why it is important to fight unconscious bias

As these examples show, unconscious biases can hinder decision making, influence team dynamics, andLeadership stylesand limit business diversity. This, in turn, can reduce the level of equal opportunity for team members and job applicants.

Dealing with unconscious biases can help solve these problems and improve organizational diversity.

19 Examples of Unconscious Bias and How to Avoid Them [2023] • Asana (5)

Increased corporate diversity can bring additional benefits, such as:

  1. Increase business profitability: Teams with strong problem-solving and decision-making skills can give a business a competitive advantage. A McKinsey study, for example, found thisgender specific companiesThey were 21% more likely to achieve above-average profitability.

  2. Attract diverse talent through inclusive hiring practices: By implementing inclusive hiring strategies, organizations can reach a broader pool of talent. Job seekers would also be more likely to apply to companies that prioritize diversity.

  3. Drive innovation: Diverse teams can come up with a variety of new ideas, allowing them to develop creative solutions that can increase sales. For example,a Boston Consulting Group studyfound that companies with diverse management teams generate 19% more innovation revenue.

  4. Increased business productivity: Research from universities found that tech companies with diverse management teams have 1.32 times moreproductivity levels. Increased productivity can lead to more efficient project management and implementation.

  5. Encourage greater employee engagement: Deloitte research has shown that diversity in the organization is directly related to diversityemployee engagement. Greater employee engagement can lead to higher job satisfaction, which in turn can lower turnover rates.

  6. Make fairer and more efficient business decisions: Inclusive teams can makebetter business decisionsup to 87% of the time. These business decisions can help improve a company's performance and revenue.

Read: Asana's approach to diversity, inclusion and equity

Be aware of your unconscious biases

The good news is that once you are aware of your unconscious biases, you can take steps to mitigate their effects. By taking microsteps, such as B. the renewal of yourinterview question templateand encouragingwork in groupswork to create a more diverse and inclusive work environment for you and your team.

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See: The Leader's Guide to Change

For more information on how to create a D&I plan, see a 4-step guide toPlanning for diversity and inclusion.


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