Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, & Belonging

8 ways your team is being held back by unconscious bias at work

Unconscious bias at work continues to be a major problem for both employees and employers. 83% of employees who’ve experienced, or witnessed, bias(es) at work feel that they were subtle and indirect, or microaggressions.

This means that the person responsible may not know that what they were doing was even a form of unconscious bias.

But it’s still their responsibility to grow their awareness and fix it. Especially when almost two-thirds of employees believe their workplace is biased.

Bias can come in many forms, including:

  • Gender
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Sexuality
  • Age
  • Weight
  • Height 
  • Disability

Making assumptions about people based on any of these characteristics is a form of bias.

For example, assuming that someone over the age of fifty is less computer literate than a twenty-year-old.

This has a financial impact, too. The estimated cost of workplace bias is $64 billion per year. This is based on the cost of replacing more than 2 million US workers who leave due to unfairness and discrimination. 

It doesn’t factor in the legal costs involved when companies need to defend themselves. Or when they’re fined because of unlawful behavior.

So, reducing unconscious bias at work could save—and make—your company a lot of money.

How do you know if it’s a problem in your organization, though? Here are 8 examples of unconscious bias at work you may not have considered.

Thinking there’s no unconscious bias in your workplace

No one is perfect. And it’s far better to admit that, and accept that everyone is a work in progress, than to try to block it out. 

You can do all the training you like, but you still may fall prey to unconscious bias at work. Eradicating it requires active, conscious work. Especially when someone is new to noticing it. 

Eventually the good behaviors become habit, but that takes time. Just the same as learning those good habits did in the first place.

Interrupting colleagues in meetings

Did you know women are more likely to be interrupted in a meeting than men?

Next time you’re in a meeting, track how often each person, or demographic is interrupted. The results may surprise you.

The Woman Interrupted app detects how often men interrupt women during a meeting.

Its data discovered that in the US, men speak over women 1.43 times per minute. PER MINUTE.

In the UK, this goes up to 1.67 times per minute. In Malaysia it’s 6.66 times, it’s 7.22 times in Nigeria, and in Pakistan it’s 8.28 times.

Questioning expertise

How often do you challenge someone’s ideas in a meeting? Do you challenge everyone’s ideas equally?

Men often have their ideas questioned less, even if they have less experience.

Women, meanwhile, find that their ideas and expertise are questioned more often. And they’re more than twice as likely to have to provide evidence of their competence.

But when a man makes the same suggestion, people more readily get onboard. And give him all the credit. It’s one of the most common examples of unconscious bias at work.

You hired your employees because they have the required expertise for the job. So it’s important that their colleagues know, understand, and respect this. And that their behavior reflects it.

Assuming everyone is able-bodied

Not everyone likes to disclose that they have a disability to their employer. Many people with disabilities worry that their colleagues will treat them differently or think them less capable of doing their job if they share their condition.

Whether it’s asthma, allergies, chronic pain, neurodivergence, or something more visible, almost everyone has something.

Yet the default is still to assume that everyone is able-bodied.

So businesses work under that assumption, rather than making accommodations that improve everyone’s quality of life. This is just another way that unconscious bias at work can show up.

For example, does your office have an elevator?

Do you have a plan in place for if there’s a fire in the building and it’s unusable? Who’s going to help employees with mobility challenges down the stairs during an emergency?

Making assumptions about people’s health, and their needs, leads to a huge disconnect. And can mean that employees who don’t disclose their disabilities are more likely to leave because their workplace is unfit for purpose.

Thinking you understand someone else’s experiences

Unless you’ve lived through something, it’s really hard to understand what it’s like. For instance, living with a particular health condition or growing up in a totally different culture or location.

Having witnessed it helps, but it will never give you the full experience because you’re not in that person’s body or mind.

Thinking you know exactly what a person thinks or feels leads to making assumptions about what they need. Which can be risky territory.

Different people can experience the same situation completely differently. That’s why listening in the workplace is so important. You get a better understanding of someone’s experiences and needs, and can suggest further ways to accommodate them.

Not paying attention to promotions

Gallup’s Women and the Workplace study found that at almost 600 companies, for every 100 men promoted, only 85 women received promotions.

Women are also more slowly promoted in the workplace than men with the same level of education and experience. Such unequal promotion rates are a strong indicator of unconscious bias at work.

Telling women to just ask for a raise

I’m sure you’ve heard this before—that women just need to more actively ask for raises.

What if I were to tell you that women do, in fact, ask for raises…we’re just less likely to get them?

That’s what research from Australia showed.

Worse still, male hiring managers are more likely to dislike women who negotiate during the hiring process. It doesn’t bother them if the candidate is male. 

Female hiring managers treat both genders the same.

Assuming someone’s role

48% of African American women, and 47% of Latina women, report having being mistaken for administrative or custodial staff. Regardless of their actual role within the business.

Female managers and CEOs have even had people assume that their employees, or even husbands, are the leader in an organization, addressing the men first or even outright ignoring the women.


There are many ways that unconscious bias at work holds businesses back. Knowing the signs is key to taking the steps to eradicate it.

Does your business suffer from unconscious bias at work? If so, it’s time to make some changes, for both your people, and your bottom line.

If you want an easier way to implement your new programs and track progress, Workrowd can help. Reducing unconscious bias at work is no easy task, but our all-in-one tool suite can set you up for success. From launching and managing ERGs to collecting and analyzing employee feedback, we bring everything you need under one roof.

Ready to learn more? Visit us online or send us a message at

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