9 Smart Strategies to Overcoming Hidden Bias in Your Workplace

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Hidden Bias


Have you heard someone at your work has a hidden bias? Wanna know who it is?  Here’s a hint… It’s YOU!

Hidden bias comes with being a human, we all have it.   In fact, when tested, 75% of people were shown to exhibit bias, even amongst individuals who considered themselves to carry little or no racist stereotypes. Deep within our subconscious, our minds are constantly receiving and processing information, categorizing and filing data into familiar and comfortable patterns.  Like an invisible and unwelcome disease, hidden bias can creep in and infiltrate your organization without anyone even being consciously aware.  When it comes to hiring and onboarding, hidden bias can cause HR professionals to make unwise choices.  In order to be overcome it must first be recognized.

Let’s take a hard, honest look at some common biases and see if any sound familiar:

  • Affinity bias– Affinity bias is the tendency to want to work with people like yourself. This can mean gravitating towards people who look like you, who grew up in your neighborhood, or have similar viewpoints that make you feel comfortable.  Unfortunately, in the workforce world this can be a real detriment.  Having a richly diverse workforce is an asset in business world, allowing companies to understand and develop products and services for a wider customer base.  In fact, statistics have proven time and again the diverse companies are more successful and are 35% more likely to have financial returns above the industry median. Will it sometimes make us feel uncomfortable to work with people who are different than ourselves?  Absolutely!  But it will also make us smarter, better able to anticipate a variety of viewpoints, and more likely to achieve successful results with our product/service.


  • Confirmation bias– Confirmation bias is the tendency to only focus on data that confirms a pre-existing opinion. This bias can often find its way into the interview or background screening process.  If we have a candidate we feel friendly towards, we may only ask “softball” questions or engage in a “conversation style” interview.  Likewise, if the person who conducted the interview is also the person who conducts the background check, he/she may be more likely to ask former supervisors or references questions that serve to confirm what he/she already believes, generally ignoring and/or rationalizing any red flags that may pop up in the process. Conversely, if a hiring manager feels negatively about an applicant, he/she may be overly critical in the interview and background screening process.


  • The Halo Effect- The Halo Effect is when you take one positive piece of information from an individual and ignore any negative information or warning signs. An example of The Halo Effect being used in the hiring process would be when a trusted friend or employee recommends an individual for a job.  Because of a mutual trusted relationship, a hiring manager’s vision may be clouded in regards to the applicant’s shortcomings.  Likewise, if during the interview process, an individual has a single highly valued interest, served as a volunteer or went to a common school as the hiring manager, there is a tendency for The Halo Effect to take hold.


  • The Horns Effect- As you might imagine, The Horns Effect is the opposite of The Halo Effect. Taking one piece of negative information and making a snap judgement on an individual’s entire character would be an example of The Horn’s Effect.  For instance, if a candidate was denied a job that he/she was well suited for because it was discovered he/she had a criminal record even though happened ten years ago and was not pertinent to the position, this might be an example of The Horn’s Effect.  The Horn’s Effect can even show up when looking through resumes if the applicant has a name that the recruiter associates with someone or something negative.  Additionally, The Horn’s Effect can be seen when someone is judged as being lazy based on purely their appearance or weight.  The Horn’s Effect can cause organizations to miss out on talented individuals that may have been highly successful at the available job.


Still need more convincing about your hidden biases?  The social scientists from Harvard, The University of Virginia and the University of Washington have joined together to develop Project Implicit, which provides a series of research backed tests to help uncover hidden bias.  The tests only take a few minutes to take and can be extremely eye opening.

So now you know you have hidden bias.  And you know it affects your ability to hire intelligently.  You also know that having a diverse workforce fosters innovation, creates a better culture, improves customer service, and leads to better returns.  So how do we fix this?

Luckily there is an action plan.

  1. Use a consistent process throughout the hiring process. This includes establishing a standard applied across the board for resume screening, interview questions, and background screening choices.
  2. Consider blind resume screening to avoid any chance of name discrimination
  3. Follow EEOC guidelines when making a decision to deny someone a position based on that individual’s criminal record. Make sure to take into consideration relevant factors including: the nature and gravity of the offense, the time that has passed since the offense, and the nature of the job.
  4. Consider delaying asking any questions about criminal record or previous salary until later in the hiring process or after a job offer has been extended. This, of course includes keeping up to date with any “Ban the Box” or “Ban the Salary” legislation that may pertain to your organization.
  5. Rely on data from detailed interview notes and verified background check information rather than “gut feelings” and hunches
  6. Involve multiple people throughout the hiring process. This can  include multiple interviewers as well as unbiased third parties
  7. Use relevant job skill testing during the recruitment process to help provide data as to the applicant’s suitability for the position
  8. Ask yourself certain questions about applicants before extending an offer such as: What assumptions have I made? What assumptions can I validate? What information did I use to arrive at these assumptions?
  9. Set diversity goals and hold your organization accountable for meeting those goals.


How Justifacts can help you achieve your diversity goals:

  • Justifacts’ clients have access to our free Individualized Assessment tool to help with EEOC compliance
  • Justifacts assists clients in developing a consistent background screening process by offering an unlimited number of packages based on job description
  • Employment verification and professional reference interviews are conducted by trained Verification Specialists, ensuring quality, unbiased information to assist in making hiring decisions
  • Clients have access to no cost, built-in Compliance tools to ensure compliance with all federal and state laws including Ban the Box and Ban the Salary
  • Customizable solutions are available so that you have control on the employment/reference interview questions asked and have the ability to decide what information is important for you to see in your hiring process

Hidden bias can wreak havoc on an organization’s hiring process and company culture, but it doesn’t have to!  It’s up to us to recognize hidden bias and learn to focus on fact rather than any sort of subjective criteria.  By doing this, we take a step forward in making sure that we have the right talent to make our organizations to grow and flourish.  If we can do what it takes to make this change, we are sure to be rewarded with a dynamic, engaged team with a diverse set of perspectives who are able to engage clients on multiple levels.

If you are looking for more information on our services, feel free to request information or give us a call at 800-356-6885 to speak to our sales team.


It is important to note that Justifacts is providing this information as a service to our clients. None of the information contained herein should be construed as legal advice, nor is Justifacts engaged to provide legal advice. We go to great lengths to make sure our information is accurate and useful. We recommend you consult your attorney or legal department if you want assurance that our information, and your interpretation of it, is appropriate to your particular situation.