Ultimate Guide to Unconscious Bias: What You Need to Know

Unconscious bias is a hard to identify, yet critical component of how people interact with each other. It influences how we think about and act toward other people (and even ourselves!)

Everyone has unconscious biases. They stem from our life experiences which shape the way we perceive the world.

Take this common unconscious bias: What gender plays with dolls? What gender plays with monster trucks?

The answers – Girls and Boys – represents an unconscious bias that girls are caring and family-focused while boys are adventurous and individualistic.

And gender bias isn’t the only common bias. Take these other examples:

It’s worth noting that unconscious biases are just that – unconscious. We don’t know they’re shaping our behaviors and that’s where problems can arise.

When these unconscious biases begin to negatively impact how we treat others, that’s a major red flag.

In the workplace, unconscious biases can negatively affect everything from the interview process, hiring, performance evaluations, promotions and terminations.

It’s critical to understand that unconscious bias hurts employees and businesses alike.

But, it doesn’t have to be this way. The first step is understanding what unconscious bias is. Then we can learn how to prevent it.

Key Takeaways

What is Unconscious Bias?

The unconscious is the deepest part of our minds. It’s where repressed memories, thoughts, and feelings live. This part of the brain is incredibly difficult to access and even harder to change.

The unconscious is how we form behaviors we don’t even understand. And why certain triggers create responses we don’t even realize. This is what we call unconscious bias.

Unconscious bias, also known as implicit bias, creates thoughts and feelings that make us act a certain way in response to external stimuli.

Take this example: Assuming boys prefer math while girls prefer language in school.

Why do many of us have this assumption? Is it rooted in truth or perception? The issue with unconscious bias is that it has real-world effects.

If we unconsciously steer boys toward math and girls toward language, they may start to believe the bias too. Suddenly, what started as bias seems like concrete evidence.

Now, take that idea and expand it to the professional workplace. Unconscious bias affects everything from hiring to firing.

How Unconscious Bias Affects the Workplace

Is Unconscious Bias Discrimination?

In many cases unconscious bias can present as discrimination. In the example above, such discrimination may result in girls not receiving the same opportunities such as math scholarships or outright telling boys that writing is not manly.

So what causes unconscious bias? It’s time to go back to our childhoods next.

What Causes Unconscious Bias?

Unconscious biases stem from our life experiences. Like many psychological theories, it’s all rooted in our childhoods.

Of course, unconscious biases can emerge even in adulthood. Especially with traumatic events like sexual assault or robbery.

These “micro-messages” we receive through our life can manifest in both everyday and unexpected situations.

If you’re familiar with the term “trigger-warning,” you’ll know that certain things may cause us to react adversely. Like seeing a dog die in a movie.

It’s all to do with human nature. As a herd species, we follow each other. We use patterns to navigate life and find shortcuts to make it all easier. Knowing this, it’s understandable why some people may unconsciously turn to autopilot.

Is Unconscious Bias the Same As Subconscious Bias?

While both the unconscious and subconscious are not readily available for introspection, the unconscious hides at an even deeper level. This is why acknowledging, deconstructing, and transforming unconscious biases takes real effort.

As you can see, the conscious is what we knowingly perceive like picking up a pencil. The subconscious is knowing how to grip the pencil to write. The unconscious is feeling anxious because we associate pencils with test-taking.

The subconscious and unconscious are so intertwined, it can be hard to distinguish one from the other.

Here’s a great exercise to understand the subconscious better.

As you’re reading this sentence, you’re blinking. But you’ve only now noticed it because we’ve called it to your attention. What was subconscious before (happening without you noticing) is now fully conscious (you’re well aware of how much you’re blinking right now).

Now, if we think of subconscious bias, we understand that it’s our “autopilot” thoughts and actions that we don’t even think about (until someone tells us!).

Unconscious bias requires more than a finger snap because it concerns biases we don’t even know we have. And that’s where the real work has to start.

If you recall, the steps are:

  1. Acknowledge behaviors and thought processes
  2. Deconstruct why we act or think this way
  3. Transform negative thoughts and actions into positive ones

Step 1, acknowledgement, starts with understanding types of unconscious bias. So let’s go through some examples next.

Examples of Unconscious Bias

As you read through these examples of unconscious bias, note how many you’ve experienced, witnessed, or even committed. It’s important to be honest with yourself.

Any of these examples sound familiar? They’re common in most work environments, but the good news is that change is possible. And it starts with you.

How to Prevent Unconscious Bias

While we can’t prevent people from having unconscious biases, we can help them acknowledge, deconstruct, and transform those biases into something positive.

This is achieved through DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) training. It’s a proven method of guiding participants to change the way they interact with others. Companies who complete DEI training see:

CT3, our DEI learning program, uses peer-reviewed science to lead people on the path to transformation.

It shows participants helpful methods to resolve conflicts and mediate workplace concerns such as:

DEI Training & Beyond

To truly change unconscious bias, organizations must adopt a multi-pronged approach that combines DEI training with real-life supplements. Let’s look at these examples.

Company-wide Structural Changes: Organizations should critically examine their policies, practices, and procedures to identify areas where unconscious bias might be influencing decision-making.

Diverse Mentorship Programs: Encouraging mentorships can help break down stereotypes and provide underrepresented individuals with equal opportunities for growth and development.

360-Degree Accountability: Regular check-ins, feedback loops, and anonymous reporting mechanisms can help hold individuals accountable for their actions.

Remember, it all starts with a DEI training program that opens the door to these conversations.

Take The First Step For Your Team

CT3 makes positive workplace behavior possible. With engaging and accessible modules, teams who use CT3 focus on active learning, not passive attendance. CT3 is transformation through training. Take the first step for your team today.

You may also like