Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

We all have biases—it’s the brain’s way of simplifying decision-making. Addressing unconscious bias in the workplace is important. Learn more.

What exactly is unconscious bias? 

Whether we realize it or not, it’s natural to have biases—it’s the brain’s way of speeding and simplifying decision-making. But with unconscious bias, people can act against a person, place or group without realizing the harmful prejudices behind their action. An example: telling a co-worker, “Wow, you’re really up on technology for someone your age.” 

Although unconscious bias isn’t intentional, it’s still harmful, especially in the workplace, says Chris Mendez, director of inclusion and diversity at Staples. 

“When you have unconscious bias, it threatens the workplace,” Mendez says. “People may not feel safe or heard. Their level of engagement will then be stagnant, or they won’t contribute. The workforce lacks problem-solving abilities and diversity of thought.” 

How should you deal with it? 

Addressing an incidence of unconscious bias requires a deft touch—especially because the act was unintentional. Bring up the issue privately, Mendez suggests. Start by saying, “I wanted to bring something to your attention.” Then describe the incident and why it appeared biased.

Recognizing our own unconscious bias takes effort, too. To become more aware, Mendez recommends asking yourself: How did I arrive at this conclusion? Did I just allow an external influence to guide me, or can I back up this decision with facts? 

“You won’t know if it’s unconscious bias until you start questioning,” he says.