4 Unconscious Biases In The Workplace You Need To Stop In India!

Unconscious biases in the workplace happen more than we think. Which lesser-known yet common unconscious workplace bias are you practising?

Unconscious biases in the workplace happen more than we think. Which lesser-known yet common unconscious workplace bias are you practising?

Solve this riddle before you jump into the article.

A father is driving his son to a job interview. The son has applied to a large trading company. As they arrive, the son’s phone rings. The father says, “Go ahead, answer it.” The trader company’s CEO had called him to say, “All the best, son. You’ve got this.” The son ends the call and looks at his father, who is still next to him in the car.

How is this possible?

Was your answer: It was a pre-recorded message; his grandfather called him; the boy’s name is Son. Or did you correctly guess that the mother is the CEO?

If not, you showcased an unconscious gender bias.

What are the most common unconscious biases in the workplace?

The riddle above was part of a short experiment conducted by Mindspace. It showed that individuals are susceptible to implicit biases. Unconscious or implicit bias refers to baseless assumptions against a social category. Often, these assumptions are unintentional. Individuals might not realize they are showcasing them.

4 Unconscious Biases In The Workplace You Need To Stop In India!

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Listed are some common yet ignored unconscious biases in the workplace, still prevalent today!


Ageism in the workplace refers to restricting the professional growth of an individual because of their age. A Times Job and Tech Gig study revealed that up to 33% of Indian employees face age-related discrimination. Here’s a scenario to depict ageism.

Madhavi, a highly skilled software engineer in her late 50s, is excited to join a new project. To her surprise, the project manager dismisses her, assuming that her age deters her from learning about advanced technologies in the new project.

Challenging the stereotype, Madhavi excellently reflects on the project to show the manager that her age does not stop her from being a technology expert. The manager apologizes and welcomes Madhavi.

Often, a preconceived notion is attached to the capabilities of individuals closer to retirement age. As a result, they lose out on job opportunities, professional growth, and increments.

Here’s how organizations can fight ageism:

  • Through elaborate training and active discussions on ageism.
  • Through policies that promote age diversity.
  • By recognizing and celebrating employees based on their skill set and not age.

Similar-to-me bias

The similar-to-me bias refers to the inclination to favour those individuals with whom we share similar experiences. Studies have demonstrated that this cognitive bias can affect hiring and inclusion practices. Let’s imagine this bias using a scenario.

A product manager is happy with her employees, Akira and Arosh. However, unknown to her, she often supports and promotes ideas suggested by Arosh. Akira realizes this is happening because Arosh and the manager come from similar cultural backgrounds and have shared experiences.

Here’s what organizations can do to break the bias:

  • Make managers aware of their tendencies and impact on the team.
  • Use anonymous surveys or discussions that help employees share their experiences to detect unconscious biases.
  • Discuss the importance of healthy work culture to ensure favouritism does not prevail because of hidden biases.

It is natural to incline toward individuals similar to us. However, it is crucial to ensure it does not lead to bias.

Idiosyncratic Rater Bias

The Idiosyncratic Rater Bias (IRB) refers to the bias that seeps in when evaluating employees who share unique personal characteristics as the rater. It is not the same as the similar-to-me bias, wherein similarity in experiences gives rise to preference.

Here’s how to detect IRB in the workplace. 

Let us assume a manager is reviewing the employee profiles of Madhavi and Deepali. The manager has a reputation for working long hours and believes only those who spend more time at work are dedicated employees.

Deepali often works late because of poor time management. The manager sees she spends more time at work as compared to Madhavi.

When evaluating them, the manager gives a better review to Deepali despite Madhavi’s excellent progress. The sole reason for this is Deepali’s shared characteristic of working late hours, sans her ability to use working hours productively. The situation reflects IRB.

Studies show minimal IRB comes into play when raters review employees based on specific questions asked in the first person. Questions such as, ‘Given what I know of this person’s performance, I would always want him or her on my team’ can help managers review performances better.

Moreover, organizations must ask managers for specific feedback and reasoning on their reviews. Discussion of employee reviews with multiple managers will reduce the impact of unconscious biases on employee growth and development.

Non-verbal bias

Consider you are a hiring manager. You shake hands with two candidates. The first candidate offers a firm, brisk handshake. The second candidate offers a clammy handshake and has sweaty palms.

At this first glance, who would you think was the better candidate? If you say the first, it is because of non-verbal bias.

Non-verbal bias stems from an individual’s perception of body language, dressing sense, and appearance. It leads you to make a quick positive or negative judgment. Hiring managers need to be particularly aware of this bias.

Here’s how organizations can help managers tackle this bias:

  • Train managers to interview candidates analytically rather than based on their body language or appearance.
  • Conduct interviews with multiple interviewers on the panel to ensure non-verbal bias does not weigh down the professional opportunities of the candidate.
  • Set hiring goals based on knowledge and expertise.


4 Unconscious Biases In The Workplace You Need To Stop In India!

It is not easy to observe the unconscious biases we practice ourselves. As a result, they can reflect in our daily work engagement and professional activities.

However, an organization with a vigilant HR team that dedicates time to pinpointing these biases can build a better work culture.

Image Source: Rodhane Productions, free and edited on CanvaPro

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About the Author

Rhea Sakhardande

I am a researcher working toward understanding the complex fabric of society. I have a Master's degree in Sociology and am currently exploring Diversity and Inclusion in corporate spaces. read more...

28 Posts | 14,835 Views

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