16 May 2024

Unconscious bias in the workplace - Fighting prejudice series

Unconscious bias in the workplace - Fighting prejudice series

Have you ever made a snap judgment about a colleague, only to realize later you were completely wrong? Chances are, unconscious bias played a role. Unconscious bias, in the workplace especially, is a hidden mental shortcut that influences our perceptions and decisions, often operating beneath the surface of our awareness. The tricky thing is, these biases can unintentionally shape our actions in the workplace, leading to unfair disadvantages and a less inclusive environment.

What is unconscious bias in the workplace and in general?

Unconscious bias isn't confined to the office. It can shape how we perceive someone on the street, make assumptions when interacting with a salesperson, or influence our social circles.  In the workplace, however, unconscious bias becomes especially impactful. It might lead a manager to favor a job candidate who resembles themself.  

It can subtly undermine our assessment of a coworker's contributions. It may even make us less likely to consider certain individuals for leadership roles. While the origins of these biases lie in our brain's attempt to quickly categorize the world around us, in the modern workplace these shortcuts often lead to unfairness and missed opportunities.

Examples of unconscious bias in the workplace.

Unconscious bias doesn't always present itself in overt ways. Often, it subtly shapes our perceptions and judgments. From initial hiring decisions to how we evaluate performance, bias can creep in. The following examples illustrate how various types of unconscious bias can unintentionally influence workplace interactions and decisions.

Gender bias.

Gender bias refers to preconceived notions about a person's abilities, behaviors, or suitability for a role based on gender stereotypes. We’ve all heard sentences like “Women are bad drivers.” or “Boys shouldn’t show emotion.” These are influenced by the stereotypes of how we think people can, should or will behave, based purely on their gender.

This type of unconscious bias in the workplace leads to huge inequalities in all areas of business - from positions and hiring chances to promotions and paychecks. For example, a manager might be more ready to promote a man to a managerial position just because he feels that a man has more authority, or is more extroverted.

Also, this is the reason why people view certain traits as gendered and view them negatively if they aren’t attributed to their preconceived gender. This is why a man who is career driven and assertive is viewed precisely as assertive, a strong negotiator, a hunter while a woman will often be viewed as aggressive, angry, overbearing and other terms not fit for a public space.

Not to mention that this bias doesn’t portray men negatively, but in the business sphere women are statistically much more often the victims.

Age bias.

Age bias (or ageism) is the unfair stereotyping or discrimination against individuals based on their age. It can occur in various settings but is a particularly concerning issue within the workplace. This type of bias also goes both ways, but is generally not viewed as such.

The most common way of understanding this issue is that older people are viewed as less employable, not as capable, and less productive. That’s why people are known to say “Oh, it’s astonishing how quick he learns for his age.” This mindset completely negates the fact that these people are highly skilled, filled with knowledge, and extremely able and competent.

On the other hand, this unconscious bias in the workplace portrays younger workers as disinterested, lazy, uneducated. While they will be more frequently employed they are then seen as incompetent precisely because of their age.

Anchor bias.

Anchor bias is a cognitive bias where people over-rely on the first piece of information offered (the "anchor") when making decisions. This initial information can create a reference point that makes it difficult to objectively assess further information. First impressions are everything, right?

The problem with this is immediately apparent. Imagine you’re applying for a job. You’re invited for an interview. Hooray. The bus is late, the traffic is a mess, and the elevator is broken. Not hooray. The interviewer might subconsciously see you as lazy and disorganized even though you have a perfectly good reason you were late. This is also possible even if they understand and agree with your reasoning. Unfortunately, that’s just the way our brains work.

Because you being late is the anchor, that first impression is cemented into the mind of the interviewer.

Confirmation bias.

Have you ever been so sure of something that you just kept seeing signs that confirmed it? Bad news bears - you were biased. Confirmation bias is the tendency to seek out and favor information that supports our existing beliefs, while ignoring or downplaying evidence that contradicts them. This leads to a distorted perception of reality.

As far as that unconscious bias in the workplace goes. Do you have a colleague that you feel never has anything to do? You feel like they’re always just moping around? You mention that to a colleague and as soon as you do - THERE THEY GO AGAIN. He’s getting coffee again. You knew it.

The thing you might subconsciously ignore is maybe the fact that you don’t start at the same time so your breaks don’t overlap. Or that they just take them at a different time. When you go on your break you don’t really pay attention to if they’re working or not.

Halo effect.

The halo effect is a cognitive bias where our overall positive impression of a person, company, or product influences how we feel about their specific characteristics. In simpler terms, just because someone is good at one thing, doesn’t mean they’re good at everything.

Think back to times when you had to have a presentation in college or work alongside a colleague. You may have done the lion’s share of the work, or you did it equally, but somehow your colleague is seen as the more deserving one. During the presentation they were confident and articulate, so they’re seen as the more knowledgeable one just because of that one trait.

How to tackle bias

Horns effect.

The flip side to the halo effect is the horns effect. Unlike your colleague from the previous example, you have a fear of public speaking. You stutter, show signs of being nervous, take more time to get out what you need to get out. 

This trait is the horn. Because of this you are seen as the one not as prepared. As the one who maybe did less work. One bad trait, influencing the rest.

How to tackle bias in the workplace?

We feel that, through the given examples, we have made it clear why it needs to be addressed, but just in case - tackling unconscious bias in the workplace is crucial for ensuring fairness and maximizing potential. 

Unchecked bias stifles the contributions of talented individuals and can exclude the best candidates for the job. It negatively impacts workplace culture, leading to disengagement and mistrust.  Furthermore, ignoring unconscious bias hurts innovation by preventing diverse perspectives from being heard. Companies that proactively address bias not only uphold ethical principles but also protect their reputation and boost their ability to attract the best talent. How exactly does one do this?


Once again, we come to the leitmotif of these articles and that’s educating and knowledge. Educating ourselves. Our colleagues. Our employees. Knowledge of the biases around us gives us the possibility to act. If you don’t know something exists, you cannot stop it.

It’s important to note that education about unconscious bias in the workplace isn't about assigning blame or labeling individuals. Instead, it's about bringing awareness to the automatic mental shortcuts our brains take every day.  By understanding how biases like the halo effect, confirmation bias, or confirmation bias might influence our judgments, we can begin to make more conscious and objective decisions. 

Think of unconscious bias training as providing a toolkit to help us recognize when these biases might be at play. With education, employees and managers alike become more mindful of their thoughts and actions, promoting a workplace where everyone gets a fair chance to contribute and succeed.


Training is crucial in combating unconscious bias in the workplace because it helps individuals become aware of their own implicit biases. Unconscious biases are deeply ingrained beliefs and stereotypes that can unintentionally influence our judgments and decisions about others. By increasing awareness of these biases, training programs empower employees to recognize when these biases might be affecting their interactions and decision-making processes. 

Moreover, training equips individuals with the tools and strategies to mitigate the impact of unconscious bias. This can involve learning to challenge stereotypes, actively seeking out diverse perspectives, and employing objective criteria in evaluations and decision-making. By fostering a more inclusive and equitable workplace culture, training can lead to improved collaboration, increased innovation, and a greater sense of belonging among employees.


Diversity, especially in the hiring process, is essential for tackling unconscious bias because it directly challenges the underlying assumptions and stereotypes that fuel these biases. When hiring processes are not diverse, they tend to perpetuate existing inequalities and biases, leading to homogenous teams that lack diverse perspectives and experiences.

An older recruiter might have age bias, a male might have gender bias, someone with a negative experience with people with colored hair might have confirmation bias and/or horns effect. By diversifying we are more likely to make a fair choice.

By actively seeking out and hiring individuals from diverse backgrounds, companies can disrupt these patterns and create a more inclusive environment. A diverse workforce brings together individuals with different viewpoints, experiences, and approaches to problem-solving. This diversity of thought can lead to more innovative and creative solutions, as well as a greater understanding of the needs and perspectives of diverse customer bases.


Another facet that we’ve talked about before. Fostering accountability is vital in tackling unconscious bias because it creates a culture where individuals are responsible for their actions and biases are actively addressed. When held accountable through training, guidelines, and reporting mechanisms, employees are more mindful of their biases and take steps to mitigate their impact. This creates a shared responsibility for a more inclusive workplace, leading to greater awareness, open conversations, and a willingness to challenge biases when they arise

In conclusion.

Unconscious bias in the workplace can hinder progress and innovation. At Transcom, we are committed to fostering an inclusive environment where everyone feels valued and has equal opportunities to succeed. We believe that by actively addressing unconscious bias, we can create a workplace that is truly representative of the diverse world we live in. If you are passionate about making a difference and want to be part of a company that values diversity and inclusion, we invite you to explore career opportunities at Transcom. Join us in our journey to build a more equitable and inclusive workplace.