Unconscious Bias

What is unconscious bias? How bias impacts the workplace? Can it be eliminated? What can organizations do about it? How Starbucks or Rainforest QA tackle unconscious bias?

Unconscious bias can affect the workplace in terms of decision-making, recruitment process, promotions, and even unintentional discrimination. For example, in a recruitment process, it can affect the process because people tend to favour people just like themselves. So when there is a candidate similar to the recruiter, they are likely to favour and mentor in more candidates just like themselves.

In this blog, you will read what is unconscious bias, how to reduce it in the workplace, how companies like Starbucks or Rainforest are tackling it and how you can identify areas where bias might be affecting decisions. 


Photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash
Photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash

What is bias?

According to the UCSF (the University of California. San Francisco), bias is a prejudice in favour of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way that’s considered to be unfair. Biases may be held by an individual, group, or institution and can have negative or positive consequences.

There are two types. The conscious bias, more known as the explicit bias and the implicit bias, known as the unconscious bias.

What is unconscious bias?

Unconscious bias is more prevalent than conscious prejudice. According to the UCSF, unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people or individuals from outside their conscious awareness.

Everybody has unconscious biases and is everywhere. It starts with the friends that we choose, the people we date, or even the neighbourhood we want to live.

Biases are formed through all your life and are held at the subconscious level, mainly through societal and parental conditioning. Most of the time, people are not aware of it. Recognizing that the bias exists is the key to reducing its influence.

For example, biases exist in any social group with age, gender, gender identity, physical abilities, religion, sexual orientation, weight and many other characteristics.

How to recognize bias?

The Royal Society’s efforts explain in the following video how to recognize bias in yourself and others, how to recognize inappropriate advocacy or unreasoned judgment.

How Rainforest is tackling unconscious bias

Rainforest is a Tech company that provides a complete solution to level up the QA process. From strategy and test design to execution and reporting. Their platform allows you to maintain fast release cycles without sacrificing quality.

In an interview for Forbes, Heather Doshay, VP of People at Rainforest, mentioned “I believe far more impact will result from leaders consciously designing programs, initiatives and policies to take into account various forms of bias. At Rainforest QA, we design every program and policy with these biases top of mind.”

Rainforest has an emerging manager program that includes a module addresses real-life management issues that result from unconscious biases. It helps managers recognize when bias has impacted their teams. The company also edits all job descriptions to include only inclusive language.

Heather Doshay also added, “Implicit bias can start before the interaction when a manager ideates who they believe is an ideal hire profile.” Furthermore, during the hiring process, interviewers are trained to ask “structured questions that are scientifically proven to reduce bias during the hiring process.”

Rainforest is becoming aware and responsible for recognizing bias and handle it on an individual and company level.

You can read the full Forbes article here including three more Tech companies that are tackling unconscious bias.

How to reduce unconscious bias in the workplace?

As we mentioned before, everybody has unconscious biases and is everywhere. The human mind connects and groups things together for easy access. When the mind mix unfamiliar situations can make prejudiced decisions while still consciously believing that prejudice is wrong.

Train your team

Survey your team or speak with them to gather personal or anonymous information. With this, you will know how your teams are feeling to start setting expectations.

Make them feel comfortable expressing their true opinions, performance evaluation, how bias plays a role in the workplace including questions like When you think of bias, what do you think of? What sort of bias-reduction programs would you look forward to participating in?

Your teams are going to be the ones who start to make the change.

Photo by Sambo Ratanak on Unsplash
Starbucks. Photo by Sambo Ratanak on Unsplash

A good example of this is the Starbucks case. The famous global brand closed 8,000 locations across the U.S. to provide 175,000 employees with training on racial bias. Why? Because one of their Philadelphia managers called the police and had two African American men arrested for sitting in a store as they waited for a friend.

Bias not only hurt interactions with customers but can also affect the hiring process and damage efforts to build a diverse workforce.
Many companies like Rainforest or Starbucks are training and educating their teams. Besides that, they are also implementing strategic changes to their hiring processes to reduce bias and increase fairness.

For example, when a hiring process is open and you already chose the right profile, invite people from other teams to join the interview. Let them lead the interview as well as for deciding who is the best candidate to hire.
In this way, you will reduce unconscious bias from the direct manager that can share the same interest when hiring new talent.

Build Bias Awareness

Building bias awareness will help to make better decision-making. If employees keep their implicit biases in mind when evaluating performance, hiring processes, or nominating a team member for promotion, they are less likely to lean on mental shortcuts.

Atlassian, an Australian software company that develops products for software developers, project managers, and content management, uses an automated Textio Hire to remove gender-coded language from job descriptions.

Textio Hire analyzes job descriptions and predicts how the language you’re using will impact your success in attracting candidates.
The tool uses a simple colour scale to highlight words that will appeal more to men and women, so you can make your job descriptions more balanced. Within two years of deploying Hire, Atlassian boosted the number of women entering its technical graduate program from 10% to 57%.

Textio Highlights
Textio Highlights. Source: Textio


Unconscious bias will always exist in the workplace. Making a bias awareness within your teams will help to make better decision making, hiring processes, better performance evaluations, and more diversity and inclusion in the company. 

I hope that this blog inspires you and you can start to make a change. I recommend you to take the Harvard implicit association test (IAT). This test will report your attitudes or beliefs. How much unconscious bias do you think you have? Which were your results? – Stefan. 

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