Types of Bias
Bias is defined as "prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair." Oxford dictionary.
There is so much discussion in the work world about bias it is important to understand what it is and think about how it plays out at work. Whether conscious or unconscious, It happens most often when interviewing and hiring new employees, comparing employees with an eye for promotion and delegating tasks.
Understanding the types of bias at a systemic level means you can individually try to make a difference and you can help influence your boss, team or culture to address bias and achieve a more diverse and inclusive environment.
While there are many types of bias, these are three predominant biases at work:
Affinity bias is based on the idea that people are naturally drawn to others that are similar to them, specifically age, race, gender, appearance, personality type, life stage, hobbies, and more.
This bias disadvantages those are not like the person making the hiring or promotion decision. It leads to a lack of diversity which leads to a lack of growth and innovation in a company and in the people that work there. It also disadvantages those that don't have the same connection with those that have a shared affinity.
It is important as managers and leaders to recognize your conscious or unconscious bias in this area. Make sure you are not basing your decision on how you feel about someone but instead on work-based performance criteria.
For potential and current employees, it is also important to recognize if affinity bias is a part of the culture. What is the criteria used to hire people? Is it publicly shared? Is there a similarity between those that are hired that is based on that affinities above (race, gender, etc.)? Is it something the company admits, is addressing or is willing to change? If not, your value and potential at the company might be limited and it might be better to leave.
Confirmation bias is the tendency to consciously or unconsciously seek out information that reinforces your pre-existing beliefs. This can be incredibly challenging to overcome because you are looking to feel like you are right no matter what.
Confirmation bias can negatively affect people's decision-making. For example, if you think that your business has been doing well in the past, you may think that the company is ready for success in the future. This can blind you to the fact that you may need to adjust your business strategies if you want your company to survive and continue to grow.
To avoid this unconscious bias, an employee can build awareness of this bias and recognize that they should keep an open mind to new and different ideas. It helps to sometimes play "devil's advocate" by offering new ways of thinking.
Like the halo over an angel, one outstanding thing will distract from seeing the whole picture.Some say that the halo effect causes people to put others on a pedestal. For example, if a candidate went to an exceptional college, that fact may distract you from their lack of experience or readiness for the job.
The horns effect, the opposite of the halo effect, is the tendency to focus on a negative aspect of an individual.
Both of these are in danger of making for poor decisions and outcomes. It is important to stick to criteria-based decision making. See link to the tool on weighted decision matrix.
To overcome all bias, no matter which type, be more aware. Think about things through the lens of prejudice and see if you pass the test. Be curious and open to new things. Be curious and seek multiple perspectives If something makes you uncomfortable, be open to embracing it.