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Newsletter #4: Why we're all a bit biased

Hi there 👋

Question: How do you feel about people who’ve had plastic surgery? Or about those who are vegan? Stay-at-home dads? People who are uniquely attractive? What if they have a lot of tattoos or piercings? Do you think your mailman, garbage man, and doorman all share the same gender?

Answering these questions might make you feel uncomfortable. Yet, the reality is that we all make judgments about people, whether we’re aware of it or not (these categorizations are usually instantaneous).

This phenomenon is known as unconscious bias. These biases are inherent to being human and based in good faith of course (by our own backgrounds, work, and cultural environments, or personal experiences), but, more often than not, have a negative impact.

With over 150 (can you believe that?!) biases currently existing, we’ve become skilled at making judgments about people by simply looking at them. Within the workplace, these biases can have lasting effects. Companies can struggle to attract or keep talent. They promote the wrong employees or can contribute to bullying. They can even affect our performance by contributing to flawed decision-making.

Recognizing your unconscious biases is tricky by definition, yet by acknowledging that they exist and learning more about them, we can lessen their impact (more about “overcoming” biases next week!)

Pssst... If you want to find out what your own biases are you can take the Harvard University's Implicit Association Test here.


10 biases that might be affecting you at work ⬇️

📄 Confirmation Bias is the tendency to favor information that confirms our existing beliefs. Maybe you’ve seen this common bias in the workplace as forming initial opinions about applicants based on details such as their name, their hometown, or their school.

👀 Blindspot Bias is a funny little phenomenon that makes us think that others are more prone to bias than we are.

😌 Familiarity Bias is present when we opt for the more familiar when given a choice, even when doing so can return less favorable outcomes than other available alternatives. For example, an investor puts her money into what she knows, rather than diversifying her portfolio to optimize her earnings.

👫 Bandwagon Bias is the tendency to do, think, or behave similarly to those around you. An example could be purchasing an ugly water bottle that everyone else in your office seems to have.

👑 Self-Attribution Bias happens when we attribute successes to personal skills and failures to external factors. Pretty handy right? For example, an entrepreneur overly attributes their company success to themselves, rather than on their team, luck, or industry trends.

🖥 Google Bias refers to the phenomenon of exclusively using Google as a neutralized search engine (how many times have you said “just Google it!”?). When in fact, Harvard proved Google to show extreme bias and selection in the returned search results.

🤖 Dunning-Kruger Bias shows that the more you know, the less confident you are. For example, only “fools” rush into new ideas without comprehension. The wise understand how little they know and pause for consideration.

🚫 Unit Bias describes the desire to complete a task. For example, do you often feel like you need to finish your plate or meal entirely (P.S. if you’re trying to lose weight it might help to buy some smaller plates)?

⚓️ Anchoring Bias refers to the over-reliance on the first piece of information we’re given about a topic. For example, an employee amidst a salary negotiation is too dependent on the first number mentioned, instead of examining their range. We interpret newer information from the reference point (our anchor), instead of seeing it objectively

👯‍♂️ Affinity Bias refers to our tendency to like people who are similar to ourselves. Yet hiring with an unchecked similarity bias can prove damaging effects on your workplace by neglecting diversity. As a report by McKinsey proves, a diverse workforce is 15% more likely to generate above-average profitability. Do this short exercise to see who is in your “in-group” and start thinking about what you can do to include people from other groups:

Awareness of biases is a key to having a successful workforce by different perspectives, inclusive relationships, diverse networks, and ultimately better outcomes. As leaders or members of any team, we share the responsibility in understanding the biases and errors we make.


Want more? In this video you can learn more about unconscious bias in the workplace.


Reflection question of the week 🤔

When I have been on the receiving end of bias? What bias was it?


As always, please let us know if you have any feedback about our newsletter - we'd love to get your perspective and make it as helpful as possible.

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Bye-bye to bad biases! Best, Hilary



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