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Revolent: What is unconscious bias and how to prevent it in the workplace?

Category: Equality, Diversity & Inclusion, Diversity & Inclusion, Equal opportunities, Diversity & Inclusion in the Workplace, Equality in the Workplace, Unconscious Bias, Revolent

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In its simplest form, unconscious bias (also known as implicit bias) describes the learned attitudes, beliefs, and assumptions we hold that exist in the subconscious mind. That may not sound too damaging from the definition alone. However, as long as these biases exist and are used to inform our decisions, they can be extremely disruptive and dangerous, particularly when it comes to diversity, equality, and inclusion efforts. 


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Unconscious biases can be based on a number of beliefs, with the most common involving:

  • Believing that ‘Person A’ is better than ‘Person B’ because ‘Person A’ is more similar to yourself
  • Thinking less of someone who is different to you—be that in terms of race, religion, age, disability, or anything else

Because unconscious biases are a result of learned behavior from what our society or upbringing may have taught us, they are things we all have thoughts or feelings about, without being aware that it’s even happening. Everyone has them. And while in an ideal world, we would have absolutely no form of stereotyping whatsoever, it’s far more important to focus on what we can do right now to stop these from influencing our decisions. 
Before we delve deeper into the prevention techniques, let’s explore what unconscious bias looks like in a work setting. 


What does unconscious bias look like in the workplace?

Many workplaces have become considerably more diverse over the years, which is certainly worth celebrating. This slow but steady change was starting a revolution until the pandemic arrived, and tore through our job markets. The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics found that by May 2020, 49.8 million people declared they had been unable to work in the last four weeks due to furlough and job losses caused by the pandemic.

Of course, this hit everybody hard. However, a report from McKinsey & Company revealed that certain groups, including females, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and people with disabilities, who were more likely to have to cut back on their hours to provide care, suffer from mental health problems, or have to shield during the circulation of the virus, had been most at risk from losing their jobs at the start of the health crisis in 2020—providing further proof that discrimination and unconscious biases are still a reality in our workplaces. 
So, if unconscious bias isn’t something you’re aware you’re doing, how do you know what it looks like and if it’s influencing your decisions? Answering this question often takes a lot of self-reflection and analysis to properly understand how, or if, you’ve contributed to a form of bias. 

Take this example of gender bias:
You’re in a meeting with your team brainstorming ideas for your next great marketing campaign. A woman on your team speaks up and gives a suggestion, but her ideas are quickly shrugged off or ignored by the male boss and colleagues. Two minutes later, a male on the team shouts out the same idea and gets highly praised for it. 
You might automatically think “maybe the team didn’t hear her”, but more often than not, this can be down to unconscious bias whereby the team may have a predetermined assumption that her idea won’t be as strong as a male colleague’s would be. 

There are many occasions where unconscious bias can interrupt our decision-making and sway our opinions. However, there are two common situations when unconscious biases occur frequently, and unfortunately, these are particularly crucial moments: during the hiring process and promotions. This is why it’s so important for companies to be transparent about their recruitment processes, and to implement ways of removing this bias, for example, by excluding names from resumes to aid ‘blind screening’ as well as ensuring that people are recognized and compensated for their hard work. 


How does unconscious bias impact the workplace?

Unconscious bias isn’t just unfair and harmful to the person who the bias is aimed at; it can also heavily impact colleagues who may subconsciously learn these biases too, or who feel uncomfortable watching them unfold. Individuals who have felt victimized by unconscious bias at work report feeling alienated and unable to express their ideas, opinions or their true selves, which is more than problematic. However, it’s also worth considering how these low emotions could impact team morale, productivity and engagement, leading to a loss of profits or deals made. 

Most importantly, letting unconscious bias seep through the cracks in a business can have a detrimental impact on a company’s diversity and inclusion efforts. Not only can this significantly damage a company’s reputation, it can also have a direct effect on the creativity of a business, largely limiting and negatively impacting employee productivity and innovation. On the other hand, when more people within an organization feel seen and heard, there will be far greater employee engagement and collaboration which, in turn, leads to better productivity and motivation.


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Our top 5 tips for preventing unconscious bias from ruling your place of work

While the problem with unconscious bias is that you don’t know you’re doing it, there are still many measures that can be taken to ensure these thoughts don’t seep into the decisions you or your colleagues make at work and end up ruling the workplace.

  1. Acknowledge and understand your own privilege: You can’t become a better ally without understanding how you might experience certain privileges in the workplace compared to others, and then using this privilege and your voice to support these groups. Once you acknowledge this, you can then begin looking into how the workplace experience of people from marginalized groups might differ from yours.
  2. Do your own homework: While some members of marginalized groups will be very vocal about the discrimination they face, it’s important to remember that it isn’t their job to educate you on how to be an ally, and you need to take ownership of your own learning. Reach out to any diversity committees or your HR team or resource groups to get recommended material to educate yourself. This might include checking out an eye-opening documentary or a podcast that describes the issues underrepresented groups face.
  3. Make everybody feel included and welcome: We all have people at our work that we will naturally gravitate towards but making the effort to build friendships outside of the ones you already have at work can eliminate any unconscious biases you have and ensure everyone feels welcome. And you’ll be setting a great example for your teammates to follow suit! Focusing on inclusion is something we, here at Revolent, are deeply passionate about. That’s why we have numerous partnerships with like-minded organizations that share our values, such as the Salesforce Talent Alliance and Elite Sports Transitions.
  4. Ensure everybody’s voice is heard: Work meetings can be a particularly prime spot for microaggressions to occur. Take the example of gender bias we discussed earlier— members of underrepresented groups are spoken over, ignored, or have their ideas dismissed even if they have potential. If you hear an idea being repeated that was already given by someone else, be sure to verbally give credit to the original person. Opening up opportunities for others is crucial for our own work at Revolent and mirrors our commitment to supporting diverse talent. To help make a bigger impact, we are signatories of the Tech Talent Charter, the Race at Work Charter, and the Tech She Can charter which aim to help diverse talent from around the world thrive within the industry.
  5. Become a change agent: 56% of employees have witnessed or experienced inappropriate, illegal or unethical behavior at work, with most going unreported, it’s important that we are all taking even small steps to tackle this problem. It can be nerve-wracking to make a formal complaint, especially if you’re just getting to grips with what is and what isn’t discrimination or harassment —but any sort of behavior that sends bells ringing is worth addressing. 

Any step towards bettering diversity efforts is worth celebrating, but there is always still more to be done. Diversity, inclusion and equality don’t have lifespans and need continuous progressive action to thrive.  

Not sure where to start? This is where Revolent and Vercida can help. Both organizations are committed to making tech as accessible and diverse as possible, and giving people from all backgrounds and experiences the opportunity they need to break into the industry. Find out more about Revolent today and how you can become one of the world’s most sought-after cloud professionals.


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VERCIDA works with over one hundred clients who are committed to creating an inclusive work environment. If you are an employer and interested in working with VERCIDA to promote your diversity and inclusion initiatives and attract the best candidates, please email [email protected] for more information.

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