14 unconscious bias examples at work (and how to spot them)

Unconscious biases are social stereotypes that people form unintentionally.

Unconscious bias examples

Your recruiter sends over resumes for 3 candidates you’ll be interviewing today.

One immediately catches your eye—the candidate also went to Northwestern (Go Wildcats!) and enjoys backpacking.

Despite lacking some of the experience necessary, you know they’re smart enough to make it work (you share the same alma mater, after all). You can’t wait to ask them all about their favorite off-the-beaten path hiking spots tomorrow too.

Just that, unknowingly, you have a top contender for the role. This is a prime example of unconscious bias—a cognitive function that causes us to hold beliefs or preferences about individuals or groups of people without actively noticing it.

As humans, we all hold unconscious biases.

It’s how our brains work. And while it might feel a little uncomfortable to acknowledge, building awareness around our biases can help us more actively challenge them and approach situations with empathy.

At work, recognizing unconscious bias can help us navigate situations with more awareness and inclusivity—and build a workplace that’s diverse, equitable, and effective.

Our unconscious biases impact how we go about life on a daily basis—especially at work.

As evolutionary shortcuts for our brain, they happen most when we’re working under pressure, multi-tasking, or trying to process a lot all at once. They’re present in how we interact with teammates, hire and promote, plan product direction, and more.

Left unchecked though, unconscious biases do a great deal of harm on teams. Reinforcing stereotypes, skewing our judgment, and contributing to an unhealthy work environment.

“There are certain biases that we have to be aware of. One is proximity bias. If you are sitting beside someone, you're more likely to enjoy spending time with them and look at them more favorably versus someone who you just see on a screen. So from a remote versus a co-located team, that's one thing we have to be aware of.”  — Najeeb Khan, Founder of TeamLand

14 types of unconscious bias + examples

Unconscious biases take on many shapes and forms. In this section, we’ll go over some of the most common biases that affect us at work, and offer specific examples and tips to help you avoid them.

As you go through the list, some of the examples might deeply resonate with your own experience. Most of us have likely been on both sides of unconscious bias. Be gentle with yourself and remember: it’s part of being human. Becoming aware of the biases we hold is the first step in training our brains to think and react differently.

1. Gender bias

Gender bias is the tendency to favor one gender or perceived gender over the other. It’s also referred to as sexism.

The gender pay gap is probably the most well-known example of gender bias in the workplace, but it can unknowingly impact your organization in many other ways too, like during hiring, performance reviews, project staffing, and promotions. Your meeting culture can also promote gender bias, because women and men have different ways of communicating.

Different norms around talking about ourselves, comparing ourselves to others, how long we should speak, cross-talk, the length of pauses between speakers are all things we learned at a young age—likely influenced by our gender—that we carry with us through life and into work. (Studies show these differences are further exacerbated in a remote setting too.)

Gender bias examples

  • Your manager tends to favor men over women to lead projects
  • In a job description, a recruiter uses gendered language (like “ninja” or “competitive”) which is unintentionally geared towards men
  • During a meeting, a manager asks “Who has updates to share?”—a tactic that will likely illicit more male responses than female
“At one point in my career, I was the CEO and founder of a software company. A guy who was working for me was struggling with a project. During a conversation about it, I asked: ‘What can I do or stop doing that would help you get this project back on track?’ And he kind of leans in and says to me, ‘You’re the most aggressive woman I’ve ever met. That’s the problem.’ [...] His problem wasn’t really my aggression. His problem was my gender.” — Kim Scott, Author of Radical Candor and Just Work.

Tips to avoid gender bias

Use gender-neutral language and the flip test when writing job descriptions

  • Only include requirements that are necessary for the job—research shows that women are less likely than men to apply for jobs they aren’t 100% qualified for
  • Adopt meeting best practices to give everyone an equal chance to speak and participate
  • Try our meeting tool—it helps teams facilitate more inclusive and engaging meetings
  • Set qualitative gender diversity goals to create a more gender-balanced team; support and provide resources for women to take on leadership roles

2. Affinity bias

Affinity bias is a common type of unconscious bias. It’s defined as our tendency to gravitate towards people who are similar or familiar to us over those who are different or unknown. It’s an evolutionally shortcut that our brains created to process the world around us and keep us safe. But in the workplace, it can be detrimental to collaboration, inclusion, and diversity.

Affinity bias examples:

  • Your hiring manager gravitates towards candidates who went to their alma mater (or the alma matter of other folks on the team), even when they’re less qualified
  • You prefer to get lunch with a teammate who also grew up in your hometown because the connection “just feels natural"
  • A teammate spends the majority of an interview chatting with a candidate about their mutual love of surfing, rather than assessing their qualifications

Tips to avoid affinity bias

  • Take time to get to know everyone on your team—the more you do, the more common ground you’ll find (Pro-tip: These team-building questions are a great starting place)
  • Spend ample time reviewing resumes ahead of time—familiarize yourself with any similarities you share so you can be mindful of them and avoid clouding judgment
  • Select a diverse interview panel to ensure different backgrounds are represented and no one gets more sway
  • If you’re interviewing for “culture fit”, define specific qualities that make someone a culture fit and why they’re valuable to the company (“We meshed so well!” doesn’t cut it)

3. Confirmation bias

Confirmation bias is our tendency to look for information that reinforces our previously held beliefs and ideas, and ignore information that contradicts them. Nobody likes to admit they’re wrong—confirmation bias is how our brains look for information to back up what we believe to be true.

The way many people consume news and social media—seeking out publications, friends, and posts that reinforce their own belief systems—is a common example of confirmation bias.

Sometimes by choice, sometimes by algorithm, these echo chambers narrow our perspective on the world.

At work, confirmation bias might slip in when you’re building product roadmaps, conducting user research, or recruiting a candidate.

Examples of confirmation bias

  • A team lifts up user feedback that validates a specific idea or product direction they’re excited about, but doesn’t represent the full picture
  • You really like a particular candidate, so subconsciously give them easier questions that play up their strengths, rather than explore potential weaknesses

Tips to avoid confirmation bias

  • Create a structured interview process where you ask evaluate every candidate on the same set of questions
  • Build rigor into your research processes and employ best practices
  • Use interview and research questions to disconfirm the evidence, rather than reinforce what you already know

4. Beauty bias

Beauty bias is when we unconsciously make a judgment about someone based on their physical appearance. Beauty bias causes us to favor or disfavor people based on how attractive they are, their height or weight, and their personal style. It can also reinforce or trigger our cultural, racial, and gender biases too.

In the workplace, beauty bias unknowingly affects who gets hired and promoted, how much individuals are paid, and how they’re perceived by their colleagues.

Examples of beauty bias

  • A teammate calls another a co-worker “unprofessional” based on how they’re dressed
  • A hiring manager shares some preconceived notions about a candidate because they have a lot of tattoos
  • You sometimes feel like a coworker “doesn’t have their sh*t together” because they’re always wearing a sweatshirt and pony tail on Zoom

Tips to avoid beauty bias

  • Consider phone screens instead of video calls for the first round of the interview process
  • Talk about beauty bias—create a structured interview process that brings awareness to it and does it’s best to avoid it
  • Put processes in place that help you evaluate folks for promotion and recognition based on performance so there’s less room for beauty bias to slip in

5. Conformity bias

As humans, we’re naturally prone to taking cues from those around us as we navigate group situations. Rather than use our own personal judgment, we often look to others and follow suit. This tendency to behave like the people around us is called conformity bias. And while it can be helpful in navigating many new social situations (like the first time you meet your significant other’s family), it can be detrimental to the well-being and creativity of your team at work.

Examples of conformity bias

  • A manager commits their team to an unrealistic timeline because the rest of the leaders in the room were fired up about it
  • A IC doesn’t ask for help with something they’re struggling with since they’ve never seen others on the team do the same
  • A teammate avoids speaking their concerns about a potential candidate because the rest of the team seems to really like them

Tips to avoid conformity bias

  • Create a culture of psychological safety on your team, where people feel comfortable opening up, sharing honest feedback, and being vulnerable—these culture tips can help
  • Offer async channels to share feedback or ask for support, so folks who aren’t as comfortable speaking up during a meeting still get an equal voice
  • As a leader, model “going against the grain” for your team—if you’re having a hard day, say so; if you disagree with something everyone’s fired up about, constructively share why
  • Offer trainings around giving and receiving feedback so folks feel better equipped to speak up

6. Ageism

Another unconscious bias is ageism—the subconscious beliefs we hold about someone based on their age.

Studies show as many as 64% of people have seen or experienced ageism at work—and no matter what your age, it can have a negative impact.

Examples of ageism

  • A teammate tells you you’re too young for a role, despite being qualified for it
  • A manager focuses on on younger employees when it comes to growth, development, and other learning opportunities
  • Your teammates make jokes—even ones that feel playful and kind-spirited—about getting older, retirement plans, or anything related to age

Tips to avoid ageism

  • Promote and reward folks at your organization based on performance, not tenure
  • Advertise open positions in a variety of places so you get a diverse pool of candidates
  • Be conscious about language in job descriptions: words like “energetic” and “tech-savvy” can be read as youthful qualities and can easily be swapped out for “dedicated” or “loyal” or speaking to the specific technical qualifications the role requires
  • Review your company’s website, social media, and content to ensure people of all ages are represented through images and examples

7. Attribution bias

Attribution bias (also known as fundamental attribution error) happens when our brain takes a person’s behaviors and actions, and tries to explain them by making assumptions about that person’s character. It’s a way of trying to connect the dots—but with only a small snippet of information.

Through attribution bias, we unknowingly create a narrative in our heads about the people we surround ourselves with, which includes our teammates. And that narrative is often untrue or unrepresentative of everything that’s actually going on. (“Amy was late for work because she’s disinterested and going to quit.”) without taking into account individual circumstances (“Amy was late for work because she has 3 kids who refused to get ready for school this morning.”)

Examples of attribution bias

  • Your manager thinks a someone on the team is checked out because they routinely show up 20 minutes late
  • You assume a coworker is shy because they rarely speak up in meetings
  • Your team is reluctant to move a candidate forward because her video background during the interview seemed messy and chaotic

Tips to avoid attribution bias

  • Get to know your coworkers on a deeper level—understanding where they’re coming from can help you avoid making unfair or inaccurate assumptions
  • Try phone screens instead of video ones to avoid making any assumptions about what you see

8. Contrast effect

Let’s say you really enjoy a popular chain coffee shop—their lattes really hit the spot. One day, you decide to try the new local coffee shop on the corner instead. Suddenly, the latte you once loved doesn’t taste as good. All you crave is that new, local latte. That’s the contrast effect. Your old latte didn’t change in taste or quality, but now it seems different.

Contrast effect happens when we compare two things against each other rather than objectively. By making a comparison, we unknowingly enhance the differences between things—even if they’re minimal. Contrast effect can make things seem worse (like the latte example) or better than they actually are.

In the workplace, it’s something to be aware of during review cycles, feedback sessions, crits, and even meetings. It also comes up in the hiring process.

Examples of contrast effect

  • During performance reviews, a manager unconsciously downplays someone’s accomplishments because the review they’d read prior exceeded expectations
  • You unknowingly make a judgment about a teammate who asked for help during standup only because the person before them shared that their work is well ahead of schedule

Tips to avoid contrast effect

  • Use a clear rubric for performance reviews, interviews, and sharing progress with the team—and be aware of the role contrast effect can play in all three
  • Give yourself ample time to complete performance reviews and, if possible, break them up with other tasks in between
  • Leave feedback right after an interview ends rather than waiting and grouping feedback for several candidates together

9. Name bias

A name can say a lot—whether we notice it or not. Names can give us hints about someone’s gender, race, culture, upbringing, and even age. Name bias is our tendency to form preconceived notions about other people based solely on their names.

In the workplace, name bias is something for teams and recruiters to be aware of—especially during the hiring process.

Examples of name bias

  • A recruiter is unconsciously more likely to advance a candidate named “Molly Smith” over a candidate named “Fátima Rodriguez”
  • A teammate unknowingly assumes a candidate named “Barbara” is older than the rest of the pool and plans to ask a few extra questions to make sure she’s up-to-speed on technology

Tips to avoid name bias

  • Remove identifying information (like names) from resumes, exercises, and work samples
  • Ask the same interview questions to every candidate and only probe deeper when it’s essential to the requirements outlined for the role
  • Select a hiring panel that includes folks from diverse backgrounds and experiences to help counter any instances of unconscious bias that might slip in

10 & 11. The halo and horn effects

We’ve grouped these two together because they go hand-in-hand.

The halo effect refers to our tendency to make positive assumptions about a person based on a single positive trait or behavior they’ve displayed. Assuming someone who’s attractive is also smart is a common example of the halo effect. With it, our brains take smaller actions and make them into a blanket statement about that person. (“She’s a good person because X”)

The opposite of the halo effect, the horn effect is when you make a snap judgment about someone based on one negative action or trait. (“She’s a bad person because X”)

In the workplace, the halo and horn effects can impair judgment when it comes to promotions, relationships, and recruiting—where we sometimes put too much weight on a single or notable employee characteristic, and accidentally overlook the rest.

Examples of the halo effect

  • You sometimes think your teammate who wears a suit jacket is more competent than the one who wears a sweatshirt
  • Your manager loves how a candidate answered one of their interview questions, and is really pushing to move them forward despite some obvious gaps
  • Your team goes with Tyler’s idea for product direction because his last idea was so successful

Examples of the horns effect

  • You rule out a candidate because they answered one question not to your liking
  • You ignore Tyler’s product idea because his last one was a bust

Tips to avoid the halo and horn effects

  • Create clear criteria for each open job rec and a system to evaluate candidates for each
  • Train your team on questions to ask during interviews that challenge their own assumptions
  • Create a regular practice around sharing work—championing wins alongside the learnings from failures so both are valued

12. Anchoring bias

Anchoring bias is when we unknowingly put too much weight on the first piece of information we’re given. As our brains collect new information from that point on, it’s compared against the reference point of the first piece of information—or the anchor—instead of objectively.

Anchoring bias can happen frequently in hiring and performance reviews, skewing how we think about people and projects based on what came first.

Examples of anchoring bias

  • A candidate knocked it out of the park with first round interviews and the team remains excited about moving forward—even though they did a poor job on the follow-up exercise
  • To shape the product roadmap, a your team lead keeps bringing up learnings from user research, even though new information has proved them incorrect

Tips to avoid anchor bias

  • Evaluate candidates separately at different stages of the interview process—if your team is large enough, use different interviewers at different stages
  • Use a clear rubric for performance reviews, interviews, and team roadmapping that always takes the latest information into account
  • Train your team on anchoring bias and have conversations as a group to work through it

13. Authority bias

Yes, it’s important to follow direction from your manager and company leaders. But when you follow them blindly, or see them as having more accuracy or influence than anything else, that’s authority bias.

Examples of authority bias

  • A leader adds a controversial comment to a Google doc and teammates pile on in support, despite some of them disagreeing with it
  • The way you feel about a particular candidate shifts because you heard your CEO recommended them for the role

Tips to avoid authority bias

  • In interview panel meetings, have the leader or manager speak last
  • When sharing feedback on a product or in a Google doc, have whoever’s in a leadership position share theirs last
  • Work to build a culture of psychological safety where it’s OK to voice concerns and challenge assumptions

14. Recency bias

Recency bias (or recency effect) is our tendency to favor recent events and information over what happened in the past. Through recency bias, we place greater importance in the things that are nearest in our memory, even if trends and data suggest otherwise.

Examples of recency bias

  • Your manager promotes a teammate because they crushed it on their most recent project, forgetting that every other deadline that quarter was missed
  • When hiring, you tend to think more highly of the person you last interviewed because it’s fresh in your memory—even if someone else was a better fit

Tips to avoid recency bias

  • Put clear structures in place to evaluate performance reviews, hiring, and promotions
  • Leave feedback immediately after you interview a candidate whenever possible

What are the benefits of reducing unconscious bias in the workplace?

While identifying and overcoming our unconscious biases takes some work, the payoff is worth it in helping you build a stronger, more united, and effective team.

Support a more inclusive work environment

When unconscious bias shows up at work, folks unintentionally get left out or feel like outsiders. Reducing our biases helps create teams and practices that are more mindfully inclusive of all.

Build strong and diverse teams

Unconscious biases are a weakness on any team, because they limit your ability to attract and retain diverse employees. By reducing the role bias plays in hiring and promotions, you’ll build a stronger team that represents a range of perspectives and experiences, and comes up with better ideas because of it.

Mitigate misunderstandings and conflicts

Micro-aggressions, misunderstandings, and even conflict can easily be spun up in an environment where unconscious bias is allowed to thrive. By identifying and overcoming our biases, we can get to know and understand each other a little better and create a healthier work environment for all.

Boost productivity and promote innovation

Left unchecked, unconscious bias can impact morale, lead to missed ideas and opportunities, and stifle innovation. When we face our biases head on though, it leads to more engaged, productive teams where everyone has a chance to share input and innovation lives and thrives.

Effective teams identify and overcome unconscious biases through open and honest communication

If you have a brain, you have unconscious bias. By building awareness around our own individual biases and working collectively as a team to address them, we help combat stereotypes that happen in (and outside of) work and create a more diverse, welcoming, and effective work environment for all.

How Range can help your team communication & culture

The easiest way to get started is by making small investments in your team’s communication culture—ensuring it’s one that’s open, honest, and encourages everyone to participate. This is where Range can help.

Through daily check-ins that keep the pulse on how the team is doing to meeting tools that give everyone a voice, Range helps teams find common ground and fight unconscious bias together.

⭐️ Build culture & get to know each other better.

⚡️Start with Range for free.

Unconscious Bias FAQs

Your questions answered

What is unconscious bias?Show/hide the answer

Unconscious biases, or implicit biases, are assumptions and beliefs we unknowingly hold about the world and people around us. They run counter to our conscious thoughts, and are shaped by things like our upbringing, life experiences, cultural narratives, and stereotypes without us ever knowing it.

What’s the difference between implicit bias and explicit bias?Show/hide the answer

Implicit bias happens under the surface of our conscious train of thought. When you hold an implicit bias (or unconscious bias), you’re likely unaware of it and are unconscious about the ways in which it impacts your actions.

Explicit bias is when you make intentional decisions based on a pre-existing belief you’re clearly aware of.

What is the difference between unconscious bias and discrimination?Show/hide the answer

It goes back to your level of awareness. Discrimination is a explicit bias, which means it’s a belief or attitude you’re aware of and when you act in accordance with it, it’s intentional. Unconscious biases are much harder to access and they affect how we act without us even knowing it. It takes more effort to recognize (and shift) our unconscious biases.

14 Unconscious Bias Examples at Work: How to Spot Them
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