What are some examples of unconscious bias

Five unconscious bias examples from everyday work.

People always see the world through the lens of their own identity. This lens is shaped by cognitive thought patterns that affect judgment: these are unconscious biases. They are considered to be one of the great barriers for diversity & inclusion strategies. Therefore, I will use five unconscious bias examples to explain to you how you can make fairer and better decisions in your job.



Biases in the brain mean that we can unintentionally discriminate against people - even if you are an open person with good intentions. Unconscious bias are anticipatory judgments and perceptions about individuals or groups. Everyone has them: On the one hand, because they help us as cognitive structures to prevent overstimulation and to organize the world. On the other hand, because we have learned a lot of stereotypical images through our socialization.



In order to make more objective and fairer decisions, these five unconscious bias examples are important for you:


Halo effect

The halo effect causes one fact or characteristic to outshine everything else. If you perceive a person as normally beautiful, it may be that you perceive this person as more competent than, for example, a heavier person. The normally beautiful person therefore has to try less to appear competent.

The same applies when evaluating CVs: If the candidate has worked for a brand you know and positively associate (e.g. Google), then you will evaluate the person’s competencies more positively overall. Although the mere fact that a person has worked at Google does not say anything further at first.



Horns effect

The other side of the halo effect is the horns effect. It states that a person's characteristic or assignment that is marked as negative outshines all others: For example, if a person's CV contains an employer who is negatively associated with you.

Or if you don't even start working with older people on your team because of a negative stereotypical thought like “Older people don't have digital literacy”. These distortions of perception can lead to the fact that you simply overlook certain information, competencies and talents - similar to confirmation bias.

To do: Make yourself aware of these two biases again and again and question in which situation this bias may have negatively influenced your judgment.



Confirmation bias

With the confirmation bias, we unconsciously confirm the assumptions made previously. For example, when a new intern has forgotten to complete an important task. And you subconsciously keep looking for evidence yourself that he just isn't that good of a cast.

To do: Break through this unconscious bias by also looking for examples that refute your perhaps deadlocked thesis. This often works out in conversation with others who didn't get the trainee's mishap and who may have a completely different picture.



Groupthink bias

Humans are social beings. It is vital for us to belong to groups. For the sake of dear harmony, unconscious groupthink can often creep in. For example, when bosses first present their ideas in meetings, we tend to only unconsciously try to confirm them.

To do: It can help to hold back as a manager in idea meetings for the time being, to not pretend anything and to be open and appreciative of the team's ideas. Variant: Your team determines each time people who should specifically refute the ideas and are allowed to argue against them explicitly.



Ingroup or Affinity Bias

The ingroup bias is a prejudice in favor of one's own group. According to neuroscientific studies, we unconsciously even feel more empathy for this group. An ingroup can be a small group, such as a dance group, but also a social group membership, such as white-German, a cis woman or not disabled.



"We" versus "the others"

These categorizations form the basis for our social identities. This is also accompanied by a division into “we” and “the others”. And depending on which group has social, political and economic power, this has fatal consequences for “the others”.


Social Identity and Groups

The social psychologist Henri Tajfel once demonstrated the very rapid categorization of “we” and “the others” in an experiment called the minimal group procedure. In this experiment, unknown people are divided into groups based on minimal information: for example, based on their preference for a particular painting or on the basis of a coin toss. Within a few minutes, the test subjects tended to view their own group as superior to the other group and to gain advantages. His theories from the 1970s / 80s have now been confirmed in numerous other studies.

Of course, this also has consequences for team dynamics in companies. Because even at work, you are probably most likely to subconsciously surround yourself with people who are like yourself. And if your company is already very homogeneous and has a majority of society, it becomes much more difficult for marginalized groups to feel included.

You can clearly feel the ingroup bias in multilingual teams with different first languages. During the breaks, people often prefer to meet with colleagues who share the same first language: e.g. German-speaking people who then prefer to meet other German-speaking people.



To do:

  1. Reflect on your identity. Where do you possibly belong to the big social ingroups - and where not? So-called privilege checks, such as this one, can help. The tests are largely based on research by US scientist and feminist Peggy Mcintosh.
  2. Target people who you perceive to be different - outside of your team, your department, your company and regardless of your first language. Personal contact ensures a more individualized perception of the groups that you perceive to be different. This can also mean diversifying your social media feed and subscribing to accounts that open up a new perspective for you. For inspiration: Like to watch who I follow on Twitter and Instagram.

An exception to this are safer spaces such as employee networks. These are special places of rest and refueling for people who are particularly marked as “the others” and who experience social marginalization.

For example, if your company has an employee network for black people, you should, as a white person or a non-black person of color, ask beforehand whether the event is open for you. Similar example: LGBTQI + network events. They are initially only open to these people from the LGBTQI + community. Unless the event is advertised as “Open to Heteros / Straight Allies”.

Understanding these unconscious bias examples will certainly help you. But in general terms, D&I work means scrutinizing your decisions and thoughts. Ensure structures that are free of bias in the company, e.g. in HR processes or performance assessments. No one is free from premature assumptions. We should therefore design our systems in such a way that this is always taken into account.