5 Ways to Deal with Unconscious Bias in the Workplace

Unconscious bias in the workplace is a subtle yet common issue that affects employers and employees alike. Unlike outright discrimination, unconscious bias takes hold even for those who do not realize its presence. Studies have shown that a diverse and inclusive workplace increases innovation and productivity. A 2013 study found that when employees believe that their organization is committed to diversity and makes them feel included, their ability to innovate increases by 83%. Another study found that companies with diverse executive boards enjoy higher earnings and returns on equity – 53% higher, on average. In contrast, unconscious bias, if not dealt with, can have a devastating effect on your business because it will slowly pick apart any positive work culture you have cultivated that is linked to your team’s productivity and overall success.


Because it can be hard to identify unconscious bias before it has already put your organization’s success in jeopardy, it is important for employers to appropriately and effectively put measures in place to prevent it. Here are five things employers can do to ensure they are looking after their team and the organization they have built.

1: Word job postings wisely

When drafting job postings, focus less on job qualifications and more on the results candidates will be expected to achieve. Alternatively, describe qualifications as preferences rather than strict requirements where appropriate. An internal Hewlett Packard report found that men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, whereas women only apply if they meet 100% of them. The reason was that women tended to believe that the job qualifications were real requirements and regarded the hiring process as more by-the-book and true to the on-paper guidelines than it really was. Focusing on results rather than requirements will not only open your organization up to a more diverse candidate pool, but it will also expose you to candidates that may actually be more qualified for the roles in question.

2: Use blind recruitment

Most people, whether intentionally or not, are swayed by appearances. Gender, race, physical disabilities, and other physical attributes are often a major factor in the final hiring process. It might mean that you unconsciously choose people that remind you of yourself or avoid certain groups of people because of misguided, systemic stereotypes. That is one of the larger issues of unconscious bias because people often don’t know that they are doing it. It can be hard to fix a problem you do not know you have. Blind recruitment eliminates your own unconscious bias from the hiring process. A popular example of the benefits of blind recruitment is the case of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. It used to be comprised of almost all white, male musicians until it began using “blind” auditions, whereby a screen was used to hide auditionees. The result was a significant increase of female musicians selected.

3: Develop diversity policies

According to a study by PwC, 86% of female millennials and 74% of male millennials said an employer’s policy on diversity and inclusion was “important” in deciding whether to work for that employer. Diversity policies when it comes to hiring are important guidelines to keep you in line with both federal guidelines as well as keep you socially responsible. The challenge is you should never just hire someone for the sake of the diversity policy. You should work to weave diversity throughout your organization, so it is commonplace.

4: Increase awareness

Unconscious bias is a difficult issue to tackle because people are unaware that they carry bias. Increase awareness by hosting information sessions and getting employees to anonymously participate in bias-revealing tests. Alternatively, you could anonymously survey current employees to gather information as to whether people feel included in the workplace and whether they have experienced bias within your organization. The important thing is that these sorts of initiatives have to be driven by the leadership within your organization – whether you are the CEO or the head of Human Resources.

5: Set up formal mentorship or, even better, a champion

Mentorship helps counteract unconscious bias in the mentor and promote professional development in the mentee. Women and minorities are more likely to need formal mentorship programs than white men, who are more comfortable seeking informal mentorship. A good example of a formal mentorship program that has had a positive effect on an organization is at Coca-Cola. Following a race discrimination suit against them, the company established a formal mentorship program and saw minorities progress in the ranks: in 2002, African-Americans and Hispanics respectively made up 12% and 4.9% of professionals and middle managers. Four years later, those figures rose to 15.5% and 5.9%.

It can be easy to say that you will address unconscious bias if you the issue arises in your organization, but that can be costly in the long run. At Hum Law we work with you to ensure both you and your employees are protected should a situation of unconscious bias arise. Contact us today to speak with someone about your organizational diversity policies.