Unconscious bias explains the ideas and attitudes that we hold subconsciously, which affect how we behave. We all have unconscious biases and unfortunately, without challenge, they can negatively and unfairly impact others within the workplace. Our London recruitment agency spent some time listening to examples of people’s experiences of unconscious bias at work; our hope is that this is enlightening and helps you challenge your own thoughts and behaviours.
Affinity bias is the bias towards favouring people similar to you.
“I felt that I experienced unconscious bias in my favour when a previous interviewer spent most of the interview talking about our local sports team after discovering that I was an avid fan,” said Joel. “I got offered the job, but it felt like the interviewer couldn’t really know my suitability for the job. I felt it was unprofessional.”
Confirmation bias happens when someone draws their own conclusions about someone based on pre-conceived prejudices.
Nayla shared: “I have Asian heritage. One time at work, the whole team received a bottle of wine each as a thank you when a project was completed. I received a box of chocolates because my manager assumed I was Muslim. I’m not!”
Conformity bias is, effectively, peer pressure—the likelihood to act in a certain way and against your own beliefs because of social pressure.
Helen told us, “I left my last job due to sexual harassment. It was awful to work in a male-dominated environment where I was constantly the subject of sexist jokes and comments. When I left, one of my old teammates reached out to me. He said he was going to miss me in the office and respected my work. I told him that his behaviour contributed to the feeling that I was unwelcome and disrespected. He was amazed and said he wasn’t like the others and didn’t really think those things and just felt it was part of the workplace culture. I wish he had had the courage to stand by his own convictions.”
Gender bias is the propensity to favour one gender (usually male) over another (usually female).
Jane said, “I’ve experienced gender bias numerous times throughout my career. Most recently, I’m sure I was overlooked for promotion after the birth of my first child. I can’t prove it, but my boss was male and he occasionally referred to the ‘unreliability of women of child-bearing age’. Not being able to prove it is frustrating, but it drove me to look for a new job.”
Ageism is when someone has negative feelings towards someone based on their age.
“I experienced ageism in my last job,” Toby told us. “I scaled the ranks quite quickly and I also look quite young for my age. I found it really hard to get colleagues to take me seriously in my new role. A new client even addressed my older junior, assuming they were my boss. The crazy thing is my mum has experienced this too at the other end of her career. She had a manager assume she wouldn’t want to apply for promotion because she would be retiring soon. My mum has no plans to retire yet!”
What to do about unconscious bias?
There are structural ways to challenge unconscious bias, such as blind application short-listing where hiring managers can’t see names, ages, gender, etc. before choosing candidates for interview. However, it’s very difficult to eliminate entirely. Be prepared to challenge unconscious bias when you see it and, if it’s limiting your career success, don’t be afraid to move to another organisation with a better workplace culture.
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