What is affinity bias?
Affinity bias is when we subconsciously gravitate towards those we feel share our interests, beliefs, and backgrounds.
Why do we have affinity bias?
Our brains make thousands of choices every day for both small and important things. Many of these are unconscious and are influenced by our previous experiences and cultural conditioning.
Unconscious decisions are shortcuts that allow the brain to conserve energy and process information quickly. We all have them – it’s part of being human! When we meet new people, we perceive things about them such as their gender, ethnicity, class, and sexuality and then make quick-fire judgements, without even being aware that this has happened. We tend to be drawn to people who are like us, to the extent that hormones in our bodies are activated when we meet someone who triggers some kind of similarity or resemblance to others we are close to. This is known as homophily and is in our nature as we seek to connect with others, but can also result in us missing so much – such as the opportunity to get to know interesting worthwhile people and experience more inclusive and productive collaboration in our workplaces. Homophily can also cause us to favour others by creating ‘in-groups,’ where individuals within a group receive preferential treatment and those in an ‘out-group’ are treated very differently.
We will never be able to completely get rid of all of these biases. But we can become aware of them and in doing so, reduce their impact on ourselves and the other people in our lives. Through awareness and self-reflection, we can pay more attention and examine our thoughts and beliefs to reduce the assumptions we make about others.
How does affinity bias play a part in the workplace?
Affinity bias can play out in lots of ways in the workplace, for example in recruitment, promotion processes and performance appraisals. Because of the way it can cause us to make judgements about the way that someone looks, speaks, and presents themselves, it can result in untrue assumptions about a someone’s skills, abilities, and overall conduct.
This can then lead to inaccuracy or favouritism based on familiarity, gender, identity, age, race, or sexual orientation. Affinity bias contributes to reduced employee morale and can stymie efforts to create a truly diverse and inclusive workplace and a healthy organisation culture.
How do you reduce affinity bias?
- Reduce your own bias. Research shows that recognising affinity bias in yourself, can help you to change your tendency to apply stereotypes and prejudices in the workplace.
- Be brave and ask to meet colleagues you don't usually interact with which can lead to valuable relationships. It can start with as small a decision as who we ask to meet for lunch.
- Work as a team – This can minimise affinity bias as it allows for multiple perspectives for important tasks and decisions.
- Raise awareness through training, open conversations, and team charters. Train managers and those in hiring roles to analyse their own biases. Encourage everyone to question their decisions at every level.
- Create structures for decision making processes in hiring, promotion, and performance reviews. A standardised approach ignores personal relationships and gives everyone the same opportunities.
The best companies understand how important it is to create awareness of affinity bias alongside other types of biases that prevail in the workplace. We help them become great at it through scientific measurement of their organisations culture. inclusio is a science-based, data-led diversity and inclusion platform, designed to measure, track, and action diversity and inclusion across your organisation.