HR Jetpack

Unconscious Bias

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Unconscious Bias

Lesson Content

Our unconscious biases can also affect employee retention. Have you ever noticed that your senior managers keep mentioning the same type of people for promotional opportunities? Or when assisting a leader with performance reviews, they tend to judge one under performer more harshly than another low performer? These scenarios could frustrate employees pushing them out your doors into the arms of another, more inclusive organization. Even if you haven’t noticed, unconscious bias can be subtle. The World Economic Forum reported, across all industries, unconscious bias among managers is a top barrier to women’s workforce integration over the 2015-2020 period.

Fortune magazine published an analysis of performance reviews finding that women were more likely to be critiqued on personality traits than men in the technology field. You don’t want to be one of the companies included in this type of analysis.

Our hidden views about other people and events can be a detriment to employee engagement.

Here are a few examples of a bias and how it plays out in phases 2, 3 and 4, develop, perform and reward:

Example Number 1, confirmation bias when people have a tendency to seek information for confirming their own beliefs or assumptions. This may be apparent when management evaluates different groups or employees in an organization. Do they assign greater fault or a lower performance rating to one because of an assumption and ignore data to the contrary?

Example number 2, the Horns Effect in which one bad thing about a person impacts the overall impression so that everything must be bad about that person! This plays out during performance reviews when an employee doesn’t achieve a goal or is lacking in one competency. The manager may rate them poorly on all their objectives. The absolute opposite bias is the Halo Effect discussed during the recruiting phase.

And example number 3, in my experience the most common one is the Similarity or Affinity Bias. I mentioned this in our lesson on recruitment as well. We gravitate towards people like ourselves. Naturally, managers may encourage and support employees who look and act like them. If someone is “different-from-me” we may be less likely to consider their opinion or even consider them for a promotion.

Addressing unconscious bias is essential to managing diverse teams and fostering an inclusive work environment. Notice I didn’t say, “eliminating unconscious bias”. Frankly, you can’t eliminate it but you can take steps to challenge your leadership team, ensure they understand its impact on the workplace and change behaviors as a result. In the next section, I’ll review best practices on how to do just that.

Christina Danforth


Christina Danforth

Christina A. Danforth, SHRM-SCP & SPHR, launched HR Jetpack in 2016 to support the development and professional growth of her fellow HR colleagues. She started her HR career in 2002....

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