Unconscious Bias

March 11, 2020

There is a lot of discussion in the media and the academic space about unconscious bias – what does it mean? How does it arise? How to address it? and so on. Organisations are becoming more and more conscious about the existence of various forms of biases, and are taking directed steps to address that. This paper is written with the effort of complementing such efforts and discussions. In this paper, we look at what contemporary researchers have to say about unconscious bias. We trace the prevalence and origin of unconscious bias, and share examples to illustrate its existence and impact in the workplaces. We also look at evidence-based strategies to mitigate the effects of unconscious bias and draw upon examples from organisations that are doing their bit in this field.

Unconscious bias – prevalence and origin

Prevalence of unconscious bias
The prevalence of unconscious bias in organisations can be explained aptly with this example – if you are named John, you will have a significant advantage over Jennifer when applying for a position, even if you both have the exact same credentials. If your name is José, you will get more callbacks if you change it to Joe. And if you’re named Emily or Greg, you will receive 50% more callbacks for job interviews than equally qualified applicants named Lakisha or Jamal (Nalty, 2016). It might seem unfair to choose a CEO because of height, just like it is absurd to give employees lower performance evaluations solely because they are overweight. Or to prescribe medical procedures to people more often because of their race. Or to treat the same people different ways because of their clothing. Or even to call on boys more often than girls when they raise their hands in school. And yet, all of these things continuously happen (Ross, 2008).

Research on bias conducted by UK-based business psychologists Tinu Cornish and Dr. Pete Jones (2011) showed that nearly 40% of people have unconscious biases against particular genders and ethnicities. Stereotype-based expectations are consequential because they become a lens through which information is interpreted, particularly when there is ambiguity regarding qualifications or the quality of a work outcome (Bond & Haynes, 2014). We go out in the world every day and make decisions about what is safe or not, what is appropriate or not, and so on. This automatic decision making is what psychologist Joseph LeDoux has suggested is an unconscious “danger detector” that determines whether or not something or someone is safe before we can even begin to consciously make a determination. When the object, animal, or person is assessed to be dangerous, a “fight or flight” fear response occurs. On a conscious level, we may correct a mistake in this “danger detector” when we notice it. But often, we simply begin to generate reasons to explain why it was accurate to begin with. When we see something or someone that “feels” dangerous, we have already launched into action subconsciously before we have even started “thinking.” Our sense of comfort or discomfort has already been engaged (Ross, 2008).

Unconscious bias crosses multiple intersections of identity, including race, gender, class, sexual orientation, religion, and region. It is also not limited to one sector. A report by Google (2017) says that unconscious bias exists in many contexts such as schooling, employment, the criminal justice system, and health care, particularly when most experts, gatekeepers, and authority figures are members of a privileged group. The insidiousness of unconscious bias is that it can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies that create and perpetuate inequities between groups, even when there was no preexisting difference in ability and the unconscious bias (stereotype) was, by definition, incorrect.

Origin of unconscious bias

This instinctive behavior is influenced by our background, societal environment, personal experiences, values, traditions, beliefs, societies and cultural environment. Unconscious or implicit biases are learned stereotypes that are natural, automatic, unintentional, and so deeply ingrained that they can easily influence one’s behavior. Our brain has the tendency to group this information in various categories and tag them with general descriptions. They are reflexively triggered without our knowledge. Bias occurs when our brain tags these categories with labels of “good” or “bad” and then applies these generalizations indiscriminately (Oberai & Anand, 2018).

Infact, a person can be two people at the same time: a conscious self who firmly believes you do not have any bias against others because of their social identities, and an unconscious self who harbors stereotypes or biased attitudes that unknowingly leak into decision making and behaviors (Nalty, 2016). Sometimes, these stereotypes or discrimination are not expressed openly and therefore might be difficult to call out. Take for example the theory of aversive racism, that states that as overt displays of prejudice and discrimination have become more taboo, these processes have become more covert and express themselves in subtler ways. Aversive racism can be an unconscious attitude an individual may hold, despite their explicit endorsement of egalitarian values. (Bond & Haynes, 2014). Microaggressions committed against people of color, women, LGBT individuals, individuals with disabilities, and religious minorities are subtle, potentially ambiguous, difficult to prove, and yet pervasive. It can take the form of subtle snubs, dismissive looks, gestures, and tones; the invalidation of prejudice or discriminatory experiences; and comments guised as innocuous (saying to an Asian American, “where are you really from?”) or even veiled as complimentary (“You speak English so well”) (Bond & Haynes, 2014). Most people suffer from a ‘bias blind spot’ in which they are able to perceive biases in others, but not in themselves (Williamson & Foley, 2018). At this juncture, it is important to point out Freud’s explanation of unconsciousness. He said unconscious was far vaster and more powerful than the conscious. He described it as an iceberg: far more under the surface than above.

Unconscious bias can lead to barriers that can be external, such as discriminatory educational and occupational practices, hostile educational and workplace climates, and other forms of disadvantage that are located in the surrounding environment. These external barriers lead, in turn, to internalized oppression, which decreases self-confidence and self-efficacy, thwarts aspirations, and compromises achievement. Moreover, some disadvantage is active, that is, direct and overt (e.g., biased performance evaluations, inequitable salary distributions), whereas some is more passive or indirect, manifesting itself as an absence or the sense of something being missing (e.g., lack of mentors and role models, lowered performance expectations, withheld resources) (Fassinger, 2008).

Unconscious bias at workplace – prevalence and impact

Instances of unconscious bias at workplace

In a now famous study called the Heidi/Howard Roizen case, researchers from Columbia’s Business School asked students to appraise the resume of an entrepreneur called Howard Roizen. He worked at Apple, launched his own software company, and had been a partner at a venture capital firm. He was a proficient networker and had very powerful friends, including Bill Gates. Colleagues described him as a “catalyst” and “captain of industry.” The students thought he would be an excellent person to have within a company because he was someone who got things done and was likeable. Interestingly enough, the same resume was evaluated by students, only it was in the name of Heidi Roizen. The result? The student appraisal of Heidi differed dramatically from their appraisal of Howard. They judged Heidi to be more selfish and less desirable than Howard, even though she was viewed as equally effective. About Howard the evaluators said, “I’d like to meet him, he seems like a successful guy.” About Heidi they said she seems “out for herself” and “aggressive.” (Trailhead, Salesforce).

Now consider the following excerpts from court cases adverse to the employer (Malos, 2015) :

  1. A female engineer is terminated as part of a Reduction in Force by a male supervisor who stated, among other things, that he ‘didn’t want women around, that women ‘were not worth a shit,’ and that his ex-wife, also an employee at the company, ‘should be at home, not working’
  2. A highly-rated insurance specialist with four children is passed over for promotion in favor of a lower-rated candidate after being told by her immediate supervisor that ‘it was nothing you did or didn’t do. It was just that…you have kids and you just have a lot on your plate right now’’
  3. An otherwise capable director of an assisted living facility is terminated at age 53 after being told by her supervisor that she ‘dressed like an old lady’ and comments by the facility’s CEO that they were ‘missing the boat by not hiring more younger, vibrant people because they would last longer and they would have more energy and be willing to work more hours’
  4. A woman undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer is laid off, despite outstanding appraisals, promotions, raises, and bonuses, after requesting accommodation for short term memory loss and thereafter having her previously high retention score changed to among the lowest of any of the employer’s candidates.

Each of these scenarios reflects explicit biases about an individual’s non-suitability for a particular job based on stereotypes regarding gender, parenthood, family leave use, age, or perceived disability (Malos, 2015). In the Indian context, it is noteworthy, that though there has been greater recognition of gender diversity and inclusion, caste is still a pervasive hurdle in corporate India’s path to diversity. ‘Upper’ castes comprise about a quarter of India’s population, but are disproportionately represented in the private sector. Studies show that 94% of top jobs went to the upper castes and 96 of Fortune India’s 100 companies are run by upper-caste Indians (Economics Times, January 3, 2020).

What leads to unconscious bias at work?

Biases arising at a workplace may be driven by general discomfort with placing a candidate in a job in which their demography is inconsistent with that most commonly (the majority) seen there, or by explicit concerns about the possible need for time off due to family obligations or medical burdens believed to pertain more to one gender or family status than another (Malos, 2015).

Attraction–selection–attrition (ASA) model (Schneider, 1987) states that organizations are likely to attract individuals similar to those who are already there, and these similar others are more likely to be selected to become members. Dissimilar members are more likely to leave the organization. The end result is a more homogeneous organization that is difficult to penetrate, and remain in, for people dissimilar to the dominant culture (Bond & Haynes, 2014). Affinity bias, which causes people to develop deeper work and trust relationships with those who have similar identities, interests, and backgrounds, is the unseen and unacknowledged culprit. When senior employers – the vast majority of whom are white and male—gravitate toward and share opportunities with others who are like themselves, they unintentionally tend to leave out female, LGBTQ, disabled, and racially/ethnically diverse employees (Nalty, 2016).

It is not just the affinity bias. It is also the stereotypical expectations that people hold from groups different than theirs that perpetuates unconscious bias. Malos (2015), when reviewing legal cases based on unconscious bias, gives an instance where male employer had commented that a woman employee should wear more makeup, act more feminine, and that she ‘overcompensated for being a woman’ by behaving too aggressively. In this instance, the woman was later replaced by someone who exhibited a more stereotypical feminine manner. In another instance, a company policy of not hiring women with pre-school age children even though no such policy applied to men with children of that age was struck down by the court. Instances of overt age bias continue to appear in the cases that Malos (2015) studied, particularly in jobs or industry contexts such as high technology or consultancies, where younger workers may be presumed to possess more relevant skills or abilities related to successful performance on the job as compared to older employees.

Impact of unconscious bias in the workplace

Unconscious Bias can be a setback in creating a truly diverse and inclusive workplace. The detrimental effects can range from messing up with the workplace diversity and turnover rate to promoting an incoherent culture in organization. In addition, they hinder innovativeness, creativity, cohesiveness, and inclusivity in the workplace. Unconscious biases can undermine the recruitment and individual development efforts in an organization, thereby creating a narrow pool of people (Oberai & Anand, 2018).

In her analysis of the prevalence of unconscious bias in the legal profession, Nalty (2016) states that organizations have hidden barriers that disproportionately impact and disrupt the career paths of many female, LGBTQ, racially/ethnically diverse, and disabled lawyers. Specifically, she adds, female, LGBTQ, disabled, and racially/ethnically diverse employees have disproportionately less access to the following:

  • networking opportunities—informal and formal
  • insider information
  • decision-makers
  • mentors and sponsors
  • meaningful work assignments
  • candid and frequent feedback
  • social integration
  • training and development
  • client contact
  • promotions

Strategies to mitigate unconscious bias

We discussed the unconscious ways in which people can express stereotypes that can be discriminatory in nature. So, what do we do given that we cannot rely on our brain to be rational and objective all the time? There have been multiple studies to arrive at the best way to mitigate unconscious bias in individuals and organisations at large. Some strategies that researchers and authors have spoken about have ranged from options like checking one’s behaviour, training and legal ramifications of discriminatory behaviours.

Unconscious bias training

Unconscious bias training is a widely used and most common strategy to address unconscious bias. It aims to increase awareness of unconscious bias and its impact on people who belong to groups that differ on some characteristics like age, race, sex, disability, religion or belief, gender reassignment, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity. Other aims are to reduce implicit/unconscious bias, reduce explicit bias and change behaviour, in the intended direction, towards equality-related outcomes. Different organisations have different ways of carrying out the training. It could involve an unconscious bias ‘test’, followed by education on unconscious bias theory and the impact of unconscious bias. The training could also talk about suggested techniques for either reducing the level of unconscious bias or mitigating the impact of unconscious bias (Atewologun, Cornish & Tresh, 2018). Google finds that participants in its internal training leave with a higher understanding of unconscious bias, and more motivation to mitigate bias, than their untrained peers.

The popularity of unconscious bias training invites agencies to view this practice as a ‘silver bullet’, but its effectiveness is likely to be limited unless accompanied by sustained interventions to address discrimination at a more structural and policy-level. Unconscious bias training should be treated as just one part of a comprehensive strategy for achieving organisation-wide change (Atewologun, Cornish & Tresh, 2018). Efforts to establish clear organizational structures and functional units responsible for tracking and achieving diverse representation were more effective than training. Organizations that adopt practices that emphasize commonalities and connectedness, while also valuing differences and challenging marginalizing practices, have the best opportunity to attract and benefit from diversity and limit the impact of unconscious bias (Bond & Haynes, 2014).

The evidence for training’s ability effectively to change behaviour is limited. There is in fact a potential for back-firing effects when participants are exposed to information that suggests stereotypes and biases are unchangeable (Atewologun, Cornish & Tresh, 2018 & Emerson, 2017). In extreme cases, telling people to resist their biases has been shown to have the opposite effect and entrenches stereotypes. Similarly, other research finds that spreading messages that biases are involuntary and widespread effectively normalises the bias, resulting in more prejudice, not less (Williamson & Foley, 2018). There are studies which say that requiring employees to undertake mandatory training has limited effectiveness, as employees are less likely to learn when coerced. Others find that while training can be effective in reducing stereotypes under limited conditions, it does not necessarily lead to increased diversity or gender equity as unconscious bias training focuses on individual behavioural change, without acknowledging and addressing systemic discrimination (Emerson, 2017).

In order to strengthen the effectiveness of unconscious bias trainings, studies recommend that organisations should be clear on the aim/aims of their training and use before-and-after measures to assess changes in, for example, awareness raising or attitude change. Organisations should always carry out an evaluation after an unconscious bias training intervention to establish whether it has been effective in meeting its intended aim/aims. If unconscious bias training has been designed for behaviour change, the evaluation should measure actual changes in behaviour, as opposed to behavioural intentions (Atewologun, Cornish & Tresh, 2018). Unconscious bias training needs to be complemented by affirmative action measures, such as setting targets to increase the numbers of women in leadership or in male-dominated areas. Practices that go beyond training are necessary. Unconscious bias training needs to be incorporated in broader workplace interventions that are ongoing, staged, iterative, multi-level, and collective (Williamson & Foley, 2018).

Training is effective only when designed intentionally to achieve discrete, and often narrow outcomes. Unconscious bias training can be a useful component of diversity and inclusion efforts, but only if it’s thoughtfully designed with research in mind and its limitations are well understood (Emerson, 2017).
Emerson (2017) developed three evidence-based tenets to guide the design of any unconscious bias training. Presenting below the excerpts from the research –

  1. Strike a careful balance between limiting defensiveness about unconscious bias, while communicating the importance of managing bias – majority group members can become defensive. Training can be designed to reduce defensiveness by explaining that we don’t have unconscious biases because we’re bad people – we have them because we are people. Although it’s important to reduce defensiveness, some trainings go too far and give the impression that, “we all do this, so it’s okay.” When unconscious bias is simply normalized, people’s actions can be more likely to be influenced by stereotypes. It’s important that training makes clear the importance of managing bias and offer strategies to do so.
  2. Structure the content around workplace situations – To make training feel more relevant and memorable, it’s better to organize content around specific workplace situations. For instance, trainings can be organized around three specific situations that participants encounter in their day-to-day work – recruiting and hiring, team dynamics, and career development.
  3. Make it action oriented – Because raising awareness about bias can backfire when not paired with strategies for managing bias, it’s essential that unconscious bias training equip participants with action-oriented strategies. For example, Emerson in her training talks about strategies to increase feelings of belonging, and the importance of defining what qualifications matter before making people-related decisions. Another instance can be to ask training participants to reflect whether, when interviewing multiple candidates for the same role, they ask all candidates the same questions.

Strengthening unconscious bias training : ABS model

To complement the efforts like the unconscious bias training, and to rescript the unconscious thoughts and interrupt implicit biases, one can follow the “ABS” model: first, develop Awareness of those biases, and then make the Behavior and Structural changes required to disrupt them.


  1. To develop awareness, Nalty (2016) suggests keeping a conscious track of surprises when something you expected turned out to be quite different. For example, when you pass a slow-moving car impeding the flow of traffic, do you expect to see a very elderly driver behind the wheel?
  2. Taking the effort to know about one’s biases by taking tests like implicit association test (IAT) is another way.
  3. Paying attention to your own affinity bias and auditing one’s behaviors can help you interrupt and perhaps even eliminate this type of implicit bias, she believes. Ask yourself the following questions: How did I benefit from affinity bias in my own career? Did someone in my affinity group give me a key opportunity that contributed to my success? Do I hold back on assigning work to people from underrepresented groups until others vouch for their abilities? To whom do I give second chances and the benefit of the doubt and who do I judge by group stereotypes and, therefore, fail to give second chances?

Behavior changes

To work towards behavioral change, it is important that one remind themselves that they have unconscious bias. Research shows that people who think they are unbiased are actually more biased than those who acknowledge they have biases (Nalty, 2016). To bring about behavior changes, the author encourages people to –

  1. Retrain their brain and pay attention to their thinking, assumptions, and behaviors and then acknowledge, dissect, and alter automatic responses to break the underlying associations.
  2. Actively questioning one’s objectivity – ask yourself if your decision would be different if it involved a person from a different social identity group. This video beautifully explains how to consciously make an effort to think differently https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GP-cqFLS8Q4
  3. One must be mindful of snap judgments. Take notice every time you jump to conclusions about a person belonging to a different social identity group.
  4. Oppose one’s stereotyped thinking, pause, question and look for alternate/counter-stereotypical models and images. One of the best techniques is to think of a stereotype and say the word “no” and then think of a counter-stereotype and say “yes.” Deliberately expose yourself to counter-stereotypical models and images. Though it is easier for you to think of leaders as male, study successful female leaders to retrain your unconscious to make the connection between leaders and both women and men. Pay more attention and be more consciously aware of individuals in counter-stereotypic roles (e.g., male nurses, female airline pilots, athletes with disabilities, and stay-at-home dads) (Nalty, 2016).
  5. Engage in cross-difference relationships with people of different social identities to be aware of the differences and also seek commonalities. Walk in others’ shoes; look through their lenses to see how they view and experience the world. Join a group that is different (e.g., be the male ally in the women’s affinity group). Some ways to do that could also be to identify yourself with the people belonging to another group you perform tasks that lessen barriers between you and them. Other ideas are to think of ways where you either imagine how people dissimilar to you think and feel, and think of ways in which they are marginalised. The more uncomfortable you are in these situations, the more you will grow and learn (Nalty, 2016 & Fitzgerald, Martin, Berner & Hurst 2019).

Encouraging individuals to identify with multiple categories, including both their own cultural identity and a superordinate identity is key. Rather than an “us” versus “them” distinction, there is also a more inclusive superordinate category of “we” to which all group members belong. Crucially, membership in the superordinate category of “we” must include the ability to maintain one’s cultural identity and have it be valued rather than the two identities being seen as in conflict with one another (Bond & Haynes, 2014).

Structural changes

Structural changes are policy level and large-scale changes at the organisational level that should be designed to address the hidden barriers first, because research shows that these are the most common impediments. Organizations around the world have also adopted policies for addressing harassment and discrimination (Nalty, 2016). Many efforts focus on procedures for increasing the hiring and promotion of diverse individuals (Bond & Haynes, 2014).

There are also unique strategies adopted by some organisations in India. Advertising agency JWT in India borrowed the concept of ‘The Human Library’ originated in Denmark to address the unconscious bias that creeps into workplaces so that ‘a mixed set of people can only improve our product’ (Business Line, January 12, 2018). At Adobe India, male engineers were often picked for projects at remote locations and women were not asked if they wanted to be part of it. Now, their definition of diversity goes beyond gender and focuses on differences that help it build high-performance (Economics Times, July 15, 2015). Standard Chartered Global Business Services employed 100 people with disabilities, most hearing-impaired, for data entry, and says that their accuracy on the job is 30-40 per cent higher than their colleagues with no hearing trouble. So, they look for differently-abled candidates every time they hire for these positions. AMD has also set up an innovation fund that even young employees can use to pursue projects they are passionate about. Godrej Consumer has an equal opportunity policy and a gender-neutral anti-harassment policy, to protect the rights of LGBTQ team members. Godrej’s people policy documents have included ‘other’ as an option for our transgender team members. Adoption and healthcare policies take gender-neutral interests into account. Infosys Gays Lesbians and You was set up in 2011 to enable a dialogue on office processes and policies that affect this community’s members (Business Line, January 12, 2018). KPMG, India emphasises to its workforce that ‘Maternity is not the opposite of Ambition’ (Time of India, Oct 5, 2019).

Additionally, there are these examples from Tech Companies across the globe that are taking steps to tackle unconscious bias. Ultimate Software offers a variety of benefits, from 100% employer-paid healthcare premiums (including coverage for IVF treatments), to paid parental leave. Rainforest QA has an emerging manager program that includes a module addressing real life management issues that result from unconscious biases and helps managers recognize when bias has actually impacted their team. Scalyr understands the importance of having maternity and paternity leave policies outlined on the website so that candidates don’t have to awkwardly ask or decide not to apply. Dialpad gives the instance where in meetings, the designated notetaker is typically the most junior employee in the room, probably not a white male, which traps them at their keyboards and reduces their chances of being able to think creatively and offer ideas. To address that it used innovation of AI-driven speech recognition and real-time transcription that can help level the playing field in those moments (Forbes, September 19, 2018).

To support the organisational policies, like the ones listed above, the researchers add that strong legal protections for many groups are still needed. Laws designed to ensure equality and fair treatment for members of various sociodemographic groups exist in countries all over the world. However, members of those groups protected by law still face considerable discrimination. The threat of a lawsuit is a powerful incentive for diversity Initiatives. One must note that the efforts by courts, organizations, workers, lawyers, and mediating organizations can be combined to support organizational change strategies. Though laws are integral in addressing unconscious bias, one needs to be cautions of its effects. Employers’ heightened awareness of the legal ramifications for discriminatory transgressions—learned through litigation, among other means—suggests that employers will be increasingly savvy in not documenting, outwardly expressing, or retaining anything that is potentially damaging (Malos, 2015).

It is thus incumbent upon organizations to adopt policies that work to prevent—not just punish—discriminatory practices. Attention should also be given on how the process of policy implementation affects the day-to-day treatment of minority employees. For instance, once a member of an invisible identity group raises a concern, their identity—whether it be sexual orientation or invisible forms of disability status or religious orientation—can never be returned to the “closet”. Similarly, the organizational policy of “zero tolerance” can actually reduce the likelihood that people will report sexual harassment. If a maximum penalty is the only possibility, people may be reluctant to report less blatantly offensive treatment. Thus, the policy may unwittingly raise people’s threshold for what is considered acceptable or tolerable (Bond & Haynes, 2014).

In focus : women leadership

Easterly & Ricard (2011) make an interesting observation when they say that gender discrimination has not disappeared, it has just gone underground. Today discrimination against women lingers in a plethora of work practices and cultural norms that only appear unbiased. They stated that many everyday practices in society create situations that are biased, but because they are accepted as conventions, no one questions their inherent injustice. They add that people — even women themselves — still hold stereotypes about women. Research proves that women under-value the work they perform. For example, when offered a specified dollar amount for a particular task, women more often than men accepted the amount offered. Men, on the other hand, were more likely to ask for additional money. Although the level of success was the same for women and men, women did not feel they deserved more (Easterly & Ricard, 2011).

Inspite of its pervasiveness, the subject of unconscious gender bias has been excluded from many women’s leadership development programs. There is little discussion on the powerful, yet often invisible, barriers to women’s advancement that arise from cultural beliefs about gender, as well as workplace structures, practices, and patterns of interaction that inadvertently favor men (Madsen & Andrade 2018).

Women researchers, for instance, often “disappear” after about a decade in academia. This phenomenon continues to occur despite near parity with male counterparts for other factors. MIT noted in 1999 that “the campus was slow to recognize other, more subtle forms of discrimination; it did not look like what we thought discrimination looked like” (Easterly & Ricard, 2011).

Today researchers are finding that an awareness of unconscious bias can help leaders fundamentally rethink the way their organizations approach strategic decision making, organizational culture, inclusion, and talent management. As such, it should be a key element of women only leadership development programs (Madsen & Andrade 2018). The authors argue that training and development must include the element of unconscious gender bias to help women leaders overcome invisible barriers and recognize such bias in themselves and in their organizations. Because men have historically been in the workforce longer and continue to hold the majority of leadership positions, “these stereotypically-masculine leadership styles continue to be viewed consciously and unconsciously as superior to stereotypically-feminine styles, which needs to be questioned.

Although most women’s leadership literature focuses on helping women navigate the biases around them, interventions geared toward helping women strengthen their leadership by becoming aware of their own biases is only now beginning to emerge. Organisations should be encouraged to apply an intersectional model that will enable a nuanced treatment of power and privilege by considering the range of identities represented by women rather than just the single category of gender. Focusing on gender alone does not address issues related to the complexity of women’s identities and the need for inclusive practices to ensure that leadership roles are not just for women with traditional privileges are the way forward (Madsen & Andrade 2018).


Many diversity scholars have focused on which diversity philosophy works best for organisations. There are three that the authors highlight – color blindness, multiculturalism, and polyculturalism. Color blindness ideology suggests that emphasizing similarities will diminish the salience of group membership, thereby inhibiting social categorization and resultant intergroup biases. However, the color blind philosophy has been associated with negative consequences as it downplays differences and not only ignores the persistent discrimination of marginalized group members, but also may unwittingly perpetuate it by promoting silence about the biases nondominant group members must often contend with. Multiculturalism is a pluralistic ideology that emphasizes the importance of attending to and celebrating group differences. A promising third orientation is polyculturalism, where the emphasis is on the degree to which all ethnic and racial groups are connected and have mutually influenced one another throughout history. Moreover, polyculturalism rejects the notion of a superordinate identity, thereby challenging social hierarchies among groups (Bond & Haynes, 2014).

Organizations can promote the full inclusion of diverse members, and mitigate the potential negative repercussion, like unconscious bias, that may accompany diversity, in a wide range of ways—by signaling acceptance and safety for members of minority groups, by increasing the sense that the organization considers diversity an asset, by disrupting the negative consequences of social categorization, by communicating clearly that discriminatory behavior is not acceptable, and/or by establishing practices that communicate the importance of both a shared mission and a collective value for the contributions of diverse others (Bond & Haynes, 2014).


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  23. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/company/corporate-trends/india-inc-embarks-on-a-new-hr-mission-to-bust-unconscious-gender-bias/articleshow/48288792.cms?from=mdr
  24. https://www.forbes.com/sites/laurencebradford/2018/09/19/how-these-4-tech-companies-are-tackling-unconscious-bias/#54c62c04a96b

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    One response to “Unconscious Bias”

    1. Amitava Mukherji says:

      Enjoyed reading this. Am happy to see the quality of the blog post.

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