By Marlen Rodriguez Wolfe
June 5, 2023
What is bias?
In today’s workplace, we value equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging as core values that make up thriving businesses and teams. But oftentimes, diverse teams are met with clashes and confrontations as they navigate the difficulties of celebrating and acknowledging individual differences; These clashes are often due to internal biases. In fact, bias and its manifestation are often named the number 1 reason integrating teams is challenging. While we often reject the idea that we carry any kind of bias, especially ones that modify how we treat people differently than ourselves, it’s naive to assume that we are immune to this internalized human behavior.
We are all prone to creating mental shortcuts in our minds when interacting with others. We make assumptions and predict behaviors as a way to prepare our own responses to situations and conversations. Our inherent conscious and unconscious biases often inform this shortcut process. However, biases are often based on stereotypes rather than actual knowledge of an individual or circumstance. (Psychology Today, 2023)
Bias can have real-world consequences, with the costs of workplace bias projected at $64B annually, based on the cost of losing and replacing more than 2 million American workers due to unfairness and discrimination (Caprino, 2017) Because of the financial impact along with the human suffering it causes, it is crucial that we work diligently to identify instances of bias internally, so we can be actively involved in creating a workplace that we can all be proud of.
First of all, what is a bias?
Bias is a disproportionate weight in favor of or against an idea or thing, usually in a way that is closed-minded, prejudicial, or unfair. Biases can be innate or learned. People may develop biases for or against an individual, a group, or a belief. Unconscious bias on the other hand, refers to biases or prejudices that exist outside of our conscious awareness. These biases are automatic, unintentional, and often based on societal stereotypes or deeply ingrained cultural attitudes.
Unconscious bias can shape our perceptions, judgments, and decision-making processes without realizing it.
These biases can be rooted in various aspects, such as race, gender, age, ethnicity, appearance, socioeconomic status, or other human behavior categories. They can influence our behavior, attitudes, and interactions with others, even if we consciously believe in equality and fairness. It's important to note that sometimes, unconscious biases are not necessarily indicative of intentional discrimination or prejudice. They result from the human brain's tendency to process information efficiently and rely on heuristics or mental shortcuts. (Gilovich,Griffin, & Kahneman, 2022)
Identifying and addressing unconscious bias requires self-awareness, reflection, and a willingness to challenge our own assumptions and stereotypes. By becoming conscious of our biases, we can take steps to mitigate their effects and promote greater fairness, inclusivity, and equality in our thoughts, behaviors, and decision-making processes.
What are some different types of biases?
Because there are many different forms of bias, conscious or unconscious bias, it is important to become aware of some of the common biases, in order to identify when these occur within ourselves or overtly among our team members. Some of the most commonly discussed biases include:
Confirmation bias. This type of bias refers to the tendency to seek out information that supports something you already believe, and is a particularly pernicious subset of cognitive bias—you remember the hits and forget the misses, which is a flaw in human reasoning. People will cue into things that matter to them, and dismiss the things that don’t, which can lead to the “ostrich effect” (named so because ostriches bury their heads in the sand), where a subject seeks to avoid information that may disprove their original point. (MasterClass, 2023)
The Dunning-Kruger Effect. This particular bias refers to how people perceive a concept or event to be simplistic just because their knowledge about it may be simple or lacking—the less you know about something, the less complicated it may appear.
Cultural bias. Cultural bias, also known as implicit bias, involves those who perceive other cultures as being abnormal, outlying, or exotic, simply based on a comparison to their own culture. Also known as implicit social cognition, this bias attributes the traits and behaviors of an individual to a larger group of people. Implicit bias creates attitudes or stereotypes that can affect or influence our decisions in an unconscious way. This unconscious bias affects many people because they are unaware of the origins of their baseline of thinking.
In-group bias. This type of bias refers to how people are more likely to support or believe someone within their own social group than an outsider. This bias tends to remove objectivity from any sort of selection or hiring process, as individuals tend to favor those who they personally know and want to help.
Decline bias. The decline bias refers to the tendency to compare the past to the present, leading to the decision that things are worse, or becoming worse in comparison to the past, simply because change is occurring.
“People are so sensitive nowadays”
Self-serving bias. A self-serving bias is an assumption that good things happen to us when we’ve done all the right things, but bad things happen to us because of circumstances outside our control or things other people purport. This bias results in a tendency to blame outside circumstances for bad situations rather than taking personal responsibility.
“I'm not a racist, she just misunderstood me. It was just a joke.”
Selection bias. This bias refers to the way individuals notice things more when something has happened to make us notice that particular thing more.
When you buy a car and suddenly notice more models of that car on the road. The car has simply become part of the individual’s observations, so they tend to observe it more elsewhere (also known as observational selection bias).
Fundamental attribution error. This bias refers to an individual’s tendency to attribute someone’s particular behaviors to existing, unfounded stereotypes, while attributing their own similar behavior to external factors.
For instance, when someone on your team is late to an important meeting, you may assume that they are lazy or lacking motivation without considering internal and external factors like an illness or traffic accident that led to the tardiness. However, when you are running late because of a flat tire, you expect others to attribute the error to the external factor (flat tire) rather than your personal behavior.
Anchoring bias. The anchoring bias, or focalism, pertains to those who rely too heavily on the first piece of information they receive—an “anchoring” fact— and base all subsequent judgments or opinions on this fact.
For instance, if you tell someone a picture frame costs $20 and they go to a store that sells it for $15, their anchoring bias will lead them to perceive the $15 frame as a bargain, even though it may be on sale at a different store for $10. With anchoring bias, the initial price of the frame will influence a person’s perception of its value.
Observer bias. The observer bias occurs when someone’s evaluation of another person is influenced by their own inherent cognitive biases. Observers, like researchers or scientists, may assess the outcome of an experiment differently depending on their existing evaluations of the current subject. Subsequently, the subject that is under observation may alter their behavior if they know they are being observed.
In behavioral research studies, we often have two people coding the behaviors to avoid this so Double-blind studies are often implemented to overcome observer bias.
These are just a few of the many different types of bias we experience without noticing, and all of them drive our behaviors wether we are aware of it or not.
Why is it important to identify our biases?
Objectivity: Bias can distort our perception, judgments, and decision-making processes. By identifying bias, we can strive for greater objectivity and make more informed and fair assessments.
Accuracy: Bias can lead to inaccurate or incomplete understanding of a situation, issue, or individual. Recognizing bias allows us to evaluate information critically, consider multiple perspectives, and arrive at more accurate conclusions.
Fairness and Equity: Bias can perpetuate unfair treatment or discrimination towards certain individuals or groups. By identifying bias, we can actively work towards creating more inclusive and equitable environments, where everyone is treated fairly and without prejudice.
Personal Growth: Identifying bias is an opportunity for self-reflection and personal growth. It allows us to examine our own beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors, and challenge any biases we may hold. By becoming aware of our biases, we can strive to be more open-minded and empathetic.
Decision-Making: Bias can influence our decision-making processes, leading to suboptimal choices or outcomes. By recognizing bias, we can take steps to mitigate its effects, consider a broader range of information, and make more rational and balanced decisions.
Building Trust: Recognizing and addressing bias helps build trust in our interactions and relationships. When we demonstrate awareness and willingness to address bias, we create a more inclusive and respectful environment that fosters trust and collaboration.
Professional and Ethical Responsibility: In many fields, such as journalism, research, or policymaking, it is crucial to identify and address bias to ensure the integrity and ethical standards of our work. Recognizing bias is part of our responsibility to strive for accuracy, fairness, and transparency.
Overall, working on identifying bias is essential for personal growth, fairness, accuracy, and building a more inclusive and equitable society. It allows us to challenge our assumptions, expand our perspectives, and make more informed and ethical decisions. Reducing bias is an ongoing process. It requires continuous self-reflection, learning, and active efforts to promote inclusivity and equality. Yet, the first step is always identifying them within yourself and then reducing your likelihood to act upon them.