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The Detrimental Impact of Bias and What You Can Do About It

Jan 20, 2023


According to the Women in the Workplace Report (2018), 64% of women had experienced microaggressions. These microaggressions had ranged from their being mistaken for someone more junior or having their competence questioned. 

It is also not uncommon for men and women to be described differently in performance reviews. In fact, in a study of performance reviews, researchers found that 66% of women received negative feedback on their personal style such as “You can sometimes be abrasive.” And the percentage of men who received the same type of feedback? One percent.

Individuals can experience bias because of their race, sexuality, age, religion, and many other aspects of their identity. 

Gender is another element that leads to biased behavior and gender bias has, indeed, been found to hold women back in the workplace. 

Whether deliberate or unconscious, bias makes it harder for women to get hired and promoted, not to mention the impact on their day-to-day work experiences. 

What Is Bias?

A bias is an assumption or an opinion about an individual simply based on that person's membership in a particular group. 

Most of these judgments or beliefs are done unconsciously. In other words, we are unaware we are making these judgments – hence the name unconscious bias. And this is a challenge because we cannot address something that we are not aware is happening. 

One of the many problems with bias is that it prevents us from being fair and equitable.
For example, hiring managers may bypass Asian Americans for leadership positions because of their association of Asians with technical skills rather than leadership skills. 

Can we get rid of the implicit associations we often make? Psychologists say “no” since it is part of the way our brain functions. 

And this is precisely why it is so important that we become aware of and address our biases because biases have real-life consequences. For example: 

  • Overweight individuals have been found to receive lower performance evaluations.
  • People are treated differently depending on what they are wearing.
  • Criminal defendants with more Afro-centric features receive, in certain contexts, more severe criminal punishment.
  • In a medical study, 31% of the nurses investigated said they would prefer not to care for obese patients.

These are just a few examples of the hundreds of ways we make decisions every day in favor of one group, and to the detriment of others, without even realizing we are doing it.

How Are Biases Acquired?

I hate to say this but one way we acquire bias is from our parents, which makes it much harder to unlearn them. 

Another source could be a negative experience. One negative experience with a member of a certain group may be enough to implant a bias into our subconscious. 

If I were married to a Mexican American and it ended in a bitter divorce, I may steer away from partnering with Mexican American teammates. In other words, I allow my negative experience with one person to color my perception of an entire group. 

Also, keep in mind the role that the media plays in spreading bias. Television, radio programs, newspapers, magazines, books, movies, and social media are constantly reinforcing negative images of certain groups. 

These venues often portray minorities in stereotypical, negative roles. And an imbalanced coverage of certain groups, with more focus on negative rather than on positive events, promotes a skewed view of those groups. 

Three Types of Bias and Their Impact

The Table below shows three types of bias and how you can lessen their impact.


Five Things You Need to Remember About Bias 

  1. Bias is not limited to gender. Individuals can also experience bias because of their race, sexuality, age, religion, nationality, and other aspects of their identity. 
  1. We all fall into bias traps. Either consciously or unconsciously, all of us can make biased comments or behave in ways that impact others in negative ways.
  1. A person who behaves in a non-inclusive or even discriminatory way does not have to have negative intent. If we approach the situation with the mentality of “they should have known better,” we will likely be met with resistance. 
  1. Biases impact the workplace in negative ways. They can interfere with hiring the best person for the job, impact retention, diminish productivity, compromise sales efforts (i.e., assuming a Black person would not have the resources to pay for a product), and even result in litigation--the worst nightmare of every organization.
  2. Finally, knowing that bias exists is not enough. We all need to take responsibility to spot them and address them.


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