Addressing unconscious bias: a pathway to a more diverse and inclusive workplace

Dorcas Barry
People Science Lead at inclusio
August 30, 2023 - 5 min read

What is Unconscious Bias and How Does it Manifest in the Workplace?

Explanation of unconscious bias 

Decision-making is part of being human, with small and big decisions impacting our lives in both personal and professional settings. In this information-rich world, we often struggle to handle and digest all that is coming at us at the same time. To cope with this, our brain naturally takes mental shortcuts to try and process information more efficiently, oftentimes with negative effects. Many people are unaware of these shortcuts - also known as unconscious or implicit biases – which can lead to discrimination against others without people even realising it. Recognising and becoming aware of the unconscious biases we hold is essential to minimising their negative effect, and to creating more inclusive and diverse environments. 

Examples of unconscious bias in workplace scenarios 

In the workplace, unconscious bias can contribute to discrimination and unequal treatment in many forms. For example, it can influence hiring and promotional decisions, opportunities and pay. Examples of the types of unconscious biases that can occur in the workplace include the following: 

  • Perception bias: Over simplistic stereotypes of groups of people. For example, all French people are rude. 
  • Anchor bias: The first thing you learn about something influences all subsequent thoughts about them.
  • Affinity bias: Gravitating towards people who we perceive as being similar to us.  
  • Conformity bias: When we think and act in ways that are consistent with the people around us. 

Impact of unconscious bias on decision-making and behaviors in the workplace 

In a work environment where unconscious bias is prevalent, the mental wellbeing of employees can be negatively affected.  Unconscious bias can even lead to bullying, which also goes hand-in-hand with discrimination and harassment. Feelings of alienation and the emotions associated with this have also been shown to lower employee productivity, engagement, and satisfaction and to increase absenteeism and turnover. 

The role of stereotypes and societal influences in unconscious bias 

Stereotypes are defined as unconscious bias directed towards a specific social group, often in a negative or disparaging way. While most people will assume they are not susceptible to biases and stereotypes, they actually cannot avoid engaging in them, because of the brain’s need to create associations and generalisations.  Stereotypes are deeply ingrained into society and reflect our ability to establish mutually respectful relationships in all areas of life including at work. Creating the potential to deconstruct preconceived societal models can allow everyone to flourish.  


What are the Main Types of Unconscious Bias in the Workplace?

Gender Bias

Definition of gender bias

Gender bias occurs when people are discriminated against or shown favouritism because of their gender identity. 

Examples of gender bias in the workplace
  • Women being paid lower than men for doing the same work and not having the same promotional opportunities as someone else. 
  • Receiving less support or mentoring because of gender. 
  • Unfair allocation of assignments.
Impact of gender bias on opportunities and perceptions  

Gender bias has been shown to play a significant role in job satisfaction and organisational commitment Workplaces displaying stereotypically masculine criteria also negatively impact on opportunities and career advancement for women. 

Strategies to address and mitigate gender bias in the workplace  

  1. Structured recruitment processes and procedures where all candidates are evaluated fairly. 
  2. Anonymous CV evaluation where possible: This involves hiding applicant’s physical attributes, names, affinity groups or any other factor which could result in bias. 
  3. Analysing data patterns and identifying gender pay gaps. To learn more, check out inclusio’s article on Gender Pay Gap Reporting and Workplace Equality
  4. Training: Giving people the opportunity to learn strategies to mitigate the effect of their unconscious biases. To learn more, check out inclusio’s Unconscious Bias Training offerings. 

Race Bias

Definition of race bias  

Racial bias is defined as differential evaluation or treatment of someone based solely on their race, regardless of intent. 

Examples of race bias in the workplace include: 

  1. Hiring discrimination based on racial or ethnic characteristics. For more information, check out inclusio’s articles in relation to Race and Ethnicity as Protected Characteristics in the Workplace. 
  2. Unfair treatment:  In 2021 a survey showed that 42% of black workers felt they experienced race or unfair treatment at work, based on their racial or ethnic identity. Unfair treatment can include illegal harassment and discrimination based on a protected characteristic such as age, disability, pregnancy, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, religion, colour, nationality, or sex. 
  3. Micro-aggressions: Seemingly small interactions that come from stereotyping but that have a long-lasting physical and mental impact on people. 

Approaches to addressing and reducing race bias in the workplace  

  • Clear and meaningful anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies. 
  • Training for all employees to highlight issues and impact. 
  • Training for hiring managers to help to mitigate bias in all hiring processes 

Age Bias 

Definition of age bias  

Ageism is the assumption that someone is capable of doing a job based on their age group.This can be at either end of the spectrum, whether someone is being subjected to a stereotype or bias because they are considered ‘too young’ or ‘too old.’  

Age bias is different from all other types of bias because it is the only type of discrimination that everyone has the potential to experience in their lifetime. 

Examples of age bias in the workplace  

Age bias could look like being excluded from training and development or ignored for promotion and advancement opportunities, in addition to more subtle forms of bias.    

Ageism affects the quality of interaction between generations, job satisfaction, vitality at work and psychological wellbeing. Age bias can lead to lowered levels of self-esteem and confidence, mental health and wellbeing, particularly for older people. 

Impact of age bias on employment opportunities and career advancement  

Age discrimination affects various workplace functions, including hiring, training, promoting, and termination of employees. Based on stereotypes, older workers in particular can be assumed to be less productive, less creative, less innovative, less willing, or unable to learn, and more prone to sickness and accidents than younger workers. This can lead to significantly reduced work opportunities and career advancement even  though no academic support exists for the assumption that age changes precipitate unavoidable declines in work performance. 

Techniques for combating age bias in the workplace  

  • Training for managers on bias and discrimination will give them insights into the importance of eliminating age discrimination and the benefits of age diversity. To learn more, check out inclusio’s Unconscious Bias Training offerings. 
  • Create clearly defined policies, enforced by senior leaders and managers to help to move the dial towards a more age-inclusive workplace culture.   
  • Review all hiring processes to make sure no individual is being accidently eliminated, and pay particular attention to discriminatory language, removing requests for birth dates on forms, and age- related interview questions. 

Understanding Unconscious Bias 

Overview of the principles behind understanding unconscious bias  

Looking at the ways in which our thoughts and behaviours are influenced by our unconscious biases requires understanding and awareness of the complex nature of how our brains process information. 

Key concepts and theories related to unconscious bias  

Some key concepts for understanding unconscious bias include: 

  1. These biases operate without our conscious awareness and oftentimes can conflict with our conscious beliefs. 
  2. They are automatic, mental shortcuts that influence the decisions we make and the experiences we have. 
  3. We all have unconscious biases – this is a normal and natural human tendency our brain uses to make sense of our world and to categorise the information we are exposed to. 
  4. Unconscious biases can manifest in many ways, e.g., affinity bias, group think, halo effect – there are over 150 different types of cognitive biases. 
  5. Unconscious biases impact on our decision making – in the workplace this can include in hiring practices, social relationship, and team interactions. 

Techniques for increasing self-awareness of personal biases  

Below is a list of techniques that you can implement to increase your self-awareness of your own personal biases: 

  1. Firstly, accept that everyone has biases and be willing to self-reflect honestly; this is an important first step. 
  2. Take the time to learn about the types of biases and those that you recognise in your own decision-making processes. 
  3. Question your assumptions, seek out different perspectives and challenge your thought processes about other people. 
  4. Use reminders to change biased-based thoughts and behaviours. This requires constant and deliberate effort but is vitally important for embedding more inclusive behaviours. 

Unconscious Bias Training: How Does it Work? 

Unconscious bias training enables participants to become aware of how and why their brains create unconscious bias. It seeks to increase someone’s awareness of their own mental shortcuts that can lead to snap judgements about other people. The goal of unconscious bias training at work is to help to remove bias in attitudes and behaviours and in hiring and promotion processes. 

Importance of unconscious bias training in promoting diversity and inclusion  

The important starting point is awareness. This should always be followed by teaching training attendees to manage their biases, change their behaviour, and also to track their progress. Effective unconscious bias training stresses the importance of change as an ongoing process and advises on continuous strategies for addressing biases at work and promoting increased diversity and inclusion.  

Bias undercuts efforts to increase inclusion and diversity for hiring and promotion decisions, highlighting the need for organisations to include effective training as part of a broader diversity and inclusion strategy. 

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Explanation of training programs and their effectiveness  

inclusio’s unconscious bias training is delivered online over 60 minutes, using interactive content with polls, quizzes, Q&A, and chat function. 

Benefits of investing in unconscious bias training programs  

  • Increase diversity and equity by creating more efficient hiring and onboarding processes. 

  • Increase productivity by building more efficient teams. 

  • Increase engagement by boosting levels of belonging for all employees. 

  • Create a catalyst with the potential to produce ripple effects for an organisations culture. 

  • Add to the overall DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) strategy of the organisation, by providing insights, strategies, and language for employees to discuss and challenge bias. 

Key Components of Unconscious Bias Training 

Overview of the structure and content of unconscious bias training  

Using a combination of latest research, relevant case studies and discussion, inclusio’s training is designed to help people recognise their own unconscious bias, understand how it may impact decision making and take action to change their approach.​ We use interactive exercises and scenarios to explore biases,and provide tools and resources for ongoing learning and development in relation to unconscious bias. 


How can organizations Foster an Inclusive Culture to Combat Bias?

Essential steps towards creating a more inclusive culture and reducing bias include; 

  • Promote diversity & inclusion throughout the organisation 
  • Increase representation from diverse groups 
  • Encourage open dialogue around issues in relation to unconscious bias 
  • Encourage empathy 
  • Audit all processes and procedures to remove any tendencies towards bias 


Addressing unconscious bias at work creates the opportunity to move towards a more diverse and inclusive workplace. As we all have biases - because of the way our brains work and our different and varying experiences of life - acceptance of this as a normal human trait is the first step to creating change.  When we overcome the biases in ourselves by challenging them, we are far more able to prevent them from affecting our decisions both at home and at work. 

Organisations have the potential, by acting and implementing strategies to address unconscious bias amongst all employees, to create a more positive culture, which is more accepting and inclusive of everyone.  



Suveren, Y. (2022). Unconscious Bias: Definition and Significance. Psikiyatride Guncel Yaklasimlar, 14(3), 414-426. Breaking barriers: Unconscious gender bias in the workplace, ILO, August 2017 

Livingston, R. (2020). How to promote racial equity in the workplace. Harvard Business Review, 98(5), 64-72. 

Kang, H., & Kim, H. (2022). Ageism and psychological well-being among older adults: a systematic review. Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine, 8, 23337214221087023.

Paleari, F. G., Brambilla, M., & Fincham, F. D. (2019). When prejudice against you hurts others and me: The case of ageism at work. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 49(11), 704-720. 


Dorcas Barry is People Science Lead for inclusio - a science-based, data-led diversity and inclusion platform that measures and enhances belonging in the workplace. Dorcas researches, develops and creates user content grounded in organisational behaviour and psychology. She delivers client reports with insights across all organisational levels.

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