What Are Unconscious Biases (and Identifying Them in the Workplace)

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Do you struggle with unconscious biases? You may be surprised to discover they’re more common than you think. With diversity and inclusion becoming an increasing point of focus in today’s workforce, being aware of biases and how they affect your team, the people around you, and your overall culture is vital to moving forward and setting a positive foundation for success. Uncovering biases can be a tricky process, but the end result is a culture and workspace that is safer and more comfortable for everyone.

At Pivot HR, we know the immense value that diversity and inclusion bring to companies and organizations. Based in Vancouver, we’re happy to partner with clients across Canada to help you get uncover biases and DEI needs that may be holding your organization back and to help you build a strong path forward. Below, we’ll take a closer look at unconscious biases and how they can negatively influence workplace dynamics. Read on to learn more!

What Are Unconscious Biases

Unconscious biases, also referred to as implicit biases refer to a person’s subconscious attitude or beliefs about others, as well as how they may behave based on based experiences, stereotypes, and other sources of prejudices. Unlike overt or “conscious” biases, unconscious biases can be far more subtle.

As humans, we’re required to constantly assess and evaluate one another, and oftentimes, unconscious biases serve as a sort of “shortcut” to make decision-making faster and more convenient. What many fail to recognize about these biases and judgments is that they can do significant damage, negatively influences our relationships, and cause lasting harm to those we interact with. There are many types of implicit biases, but some of the most prominent encountered in the workplace include:


Ageism is a form of bias that makes assumptions about someone’s capabilities based on their age (or assumed age). Examples include assuming that older individuals may not be able to perform as well as younger staff members, or that younger employees lack the maturity/insight to lead, etc.

Avoid age biases by looking at everyone equally, basing your opinion on merit and direct, proven actions rather than on assumptions.

Gender Bias

Gender biases/sexism remains an (unfortunately) prevalent issue in today’s workforce with many employers being unaware of how certain assumptions affect their judgement of current and potential employees. Not only is it unfair and incorrect to make decisions based on gender biases, but it is also illegal. Despite common errors by interviewers, it is unlawful to ask prospective employees about their marital status or family status, and it is also illegal to deprive female employees of equal access to employment and/or benefits based on pregnancies, either current or down the line.

The bottom line is, gender should never make a difference when it comes to how you treat your employees, promote and grow your business, and make plans for the future.

Affinity Bias

Human nature makes us drawn to those that are like us, but if we’re not careful, that affinity can quickly become a bias. Offices thrive with diverse and inclusive environments, and if you’re only hiring those who match your background, you’re missing out! Make sure you focus on finding the best candidate for the job, as well as someone who positively enhances your culture to avoid this kind of bias.

Attribution Bias

It can be all too easy to attribute certain behaviours and opinions of our coworkers to what we think we know about them, but doing so is dangerous. Attribution bias refers to making assumptions or evaluations regarding another person based on what we perceive their actions to mean.

For example, someone who is late to work may be seen as lazy or disengaged when really they’re experiencing car trouble or have medical appointments before coming into the office. Drawing these kinds of conclusions can be quite harmful and damage the overall dynamic of the office quickly.

Name Bias

Name bias is of particular concern when it comes to hiring and promoting from within in bigger institutions. Names can grant insight into someone’s race and gender, which can influence our perception of the individual without meeting them. Prioritizing resumes based on name biases is discriminatory and unfair, and is a practice that should be avoided by your hiring managers at all costs.

Moving Forward

The reality of unconscious biases is that the vast majority of us do have some, even if we believe ourselves to be fully inclusive and welcoming to others. Even with the best of intentions, innocent assumptions based on stereotypes, projected experience and incomplete/inaccurate information about someone can cause serious harm and damage trust amongst team members.

With this in mind, how do we build together to create a better, more diverse and inclusive future within our offices? Like any learned attributes, it takes time to dismantle our “understanding” and to create new associations and positive behaviours. Partnering with an HR consultancy like Pivot HR to equip your staff with carefully curated seminars is a great way to change the tide in your office and revitalize your culture.

At Pivot HR, we’re here to work alongside your team to create a positive environment for everyone. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you overcome unconscious biases in the workplace.

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