Last Updated on August 3, 2020

When many people think about unconscious bias, the automatic assumption is often that we are talking about color, race, and cultural bias. There are though also a number of other types of bias that we unintentionally allow to impact on our decision making and how we treat other people. So let’s look at 12 examples of unconscious bias.

Examples of Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias examples types

1. Color/Culture Bias

The Socio-cultural environment we have been brought up in can greatly impact the way we think and act.

The unfortunate and unfair thing though is that, in the workplace, and in other situations in life, we often seek to align ourselves with those with whom we are familiar and who are similar to us (this is also known as ‘affinity bias’).

Hence, we tend to align ourselves with people from similar cultures, who embrace similar cultural values to our own. Another common bias is based on skin color.

Unconscious bias can mean that, for example, a manager at work might fail to promote the employee s/he should have because the manager allowed bias to impact on the decision.

As will be discussed below in the section on how to overcome a bias if it is unconscious, it is possible through training to improve on how we make such decisions, i.e. through conscious reflection and by working on our self-awareness.

In addition to being based on culture and color, unconscious bias can be based on a variety of other factors and there can be many types of unconscious bias.

In the rest of this article, we will discuss other types of bias and other characteristics that can affect our biases.

Recommendation: An ‘unconscious bias’, as the term suggests, is unconscious, meaning we do it without realizing it. So how is it possible then to change these biases you might ask? One of the main solutions is to use self-reflection techniques before making key decisions. Likewise, changing the unconscious into conscious thinking enables us to show greater awareness in avoiding these biases. (If you are a teacher or corporate trainer you can find the full training materials here).

2. Gender Bias

Percentage of female managers
Most companies lack an equal share of female managers

Gender Bias is also something that still clearly exists both as a conscious and sub-conscious bias, especially in the workplace.

Gender bias measures show that male significantly still outnumber female managers and high-level executives in most countries in the world.

Things are gradually changing but we still live in a male dominated society.

Recommendation: There are several solutions you can use towards pushing for greater gender balance in your business. First, you can consider using blind CV (resume) reading by removing the gender, name, and anything that gives away the gender for the person/people who will analyze job applications. Secondly, you can provide unconscious bias training and ensure that you include a discussion on gender bias. Thirdly, you can ensure that you have workplace rules in place that make it a fair place to work for women.

3. Ageism

Ageism at work
Ageism in the workplace

Older workers often have vast experience and knowledge to share in the workplace, and with increasing life expectancy rates (people living longer), these workers are often keen to stay.

Ageism thought exists in many workplaces and it is often one of the last biases that seems to ever be taken seriously.

The drive to help young people to build a career and to develop their skills is certainly important. This should not come though at the expense of older workers who equally have a right to work and to continue their career.

Older staff can in fact also be amazing mentors for younger employees and they can often provide the solid foundations of a well run and organised business.

Recommendation: The list of things you can do is long but let me give you three suggestions. Firstly, provide specific skills training for elderly staff such as to help them with using certain technologies if needed. One of the biggest biases towards elderly workers is because of a perceived (or sometimes genuine) problem with newer technologies. Secondly, consider pairing older staff with new young employees as mentors. Thirdly, run a short 1-hour training session on ageism bias as part of the onboarding process for someone who joins your company.

4. Name Bias

Some of the biases listed in this post-cross-over in that a name can give away clues as to one’s cultural upbringing or history. For someone who has an issue with Italian people, for example, an Italian name on a CV (resume) will be easily spotted.

Likewise, a name that is written in an unfamiliar way to what you are used to can trigger bias.

Name bias is especially common in terms of job hiring if the applicants name is showing on the application form, CV or resume.

Recommendation: Similiar to one of the solutions regards gender bias for job hiring, consider blocking out the applicant’s name on the CV (resume) and application form, for the person reviewing the applications.

5. Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias

We naturally look for information that confirms our own beliefs and ways of thinking and this leads to what is commonly known as ‘Confirmation Bias‘.

Confirmation bias results in us distorting information and shaping it in a way that suits our pre-conceived thoughts.

This bias can be especially important when hiring new employees because the name of a university, can, for example, influence decision making.

Recommendation: Standardization can be a great way to overcome a percentage of confirmational bias that can exist when hiring staff. You might want to create standardized tests or checklists so that you rely less on the conversation as opposed to skills and expertise. You will still though of course need to consider how the person will fit into the work team and role through interview questions.

6. Halo Effect

The halo effect is when we develop an impression of someone because of one trait or characteristic. This impression then influences our overall judgment of them.

How we look is a common way in which the halo effect takes place. To provide an example, people who are considered good-looking in a photograph, might hence automatically be considered a good person. Such an assumption though can be very misguided and the looks provide no definitive way to make such a judgment.

Recommendation: I would recommend unconscious bias training for staff (especially managers and anyone involved in the hiring process), to make them aware of bias and solutions to make these biases more conscious.

7. Conformity Bias

Conformity bias can also have an impact on decision making, especially so in the hiring process.

We can easily be influenced by others when we are in a group. Sometimes it is easier to give in to the majority rather than to stand your ground.

Conformity bias is a type of survival mode in a work environment in that fitting in can often feel the best option.

Recommendation: If you manage a team, a great option can be to ask each team member to submit their views individually such as by email. You can then assess each view with less likelihood of conformity bias than can otherwise exist in group discussions.

8. Beauty Bias

Beauty bias

The concept of ‘Beauty Bias’ (or what we could call ‘Attractive Bias’) might perhaps be new to you but it certainly exists in the workplace and is an issue.

Beauty bias is actually a very common issue in workplaces. As the Harvard Business Review explains, so-called beautiful people (as judged by the decision-maker at the time), get a disproportionately good chance of an interview, promotion, and to get higher wages.

In the case of beauty bias, it can of course also sometimes be conscious.

Recommendation: In addition to using unconscious bias training to make employees and managers aware of the bias listed in this blog, the standardized hiring process that I mentioned earlier, can help here.

9. Attribution Bias

Attribution Bias is when we make excuses or give reasons for a certain behavior that we or other people engage in.

This form of bias can also involve us making a judgment based on someone else’s behavior without first ensuring that we know the reason/s behind that behavior.

This bias can cause other biases such as when we give a female employee less credit than a male employee because we think (even unconsciously) that women are less capable than men.

Put another way, ‘Attribution Bias’s is the process of inferring the causes of events or behaviors.

10. Contrast Effect

The Contrast Effect is a classic effect that impacts us all in our decision-making and how we feel and experience and work.

Consider, for example, the employee who begins to lack confidence because that employee is in a team of very driven and high-achievers. Yet that employee, in another work team, might be the best achiever and have supreme confidence.

To understand the contrast effect, think about the idea that if we look at photographs of people who might be said to be ugly, we tend to feel more attractive.

11. Affinity Bias

Affinity bias is the concept that we naturally feel more comfortable around people who are more like us than others.

If someone is from the town, city, same cultural background, same language, same interests, etc, then we are more likely to gravitate towards that and those people. In other words, we have an affinity with them.

This is a natural phenomenon but it can also lead to bias, especially in the workplace, as we often tend to favor those people we are familiar with and more comfortable around.

The issue is that, when choosing people we have an affinity with, such as for a promotion at work, is not always the fairest decision and can unreasonably impact others.

Recommendation: Like many of the biases listed in this post, it is about moving the ‘unconscious bias’ towards a more conscious way of making decisions. To do this, you need to reflect and analyze the decisions you make and why. It is a case of training yourself to make consciously fair decisions and to remove the unconscious bias as much as possible.

12. Hair Colour Bias

There are numerous other biases including things such as hair color and height. With hair color, it is known that there can be a bias against redheads.

Whilst it might at first seem amusing to some people to think that being a red head or ginger haired person is hardly a problematic bias, studies have shown that it is often the cause of bullying in school.

In terms of height bias, tall people may seem more authoritative and leader-like, either because they are more confident or because they are seen as such by other people.

Further Resources

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Dr Paul Symonds

Paul is a trained researcher with a PhD in wayfinding. Paul is a co-founder of Symonds training. We focus on providing high-quality training materials packages and programs for trainers, classroom teachers and HR departments.

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