Organizational Unconscious Bias

Organizations, just like individuals, have biases and blind spots. Unfortunately, these biases become an ingrained part of the company culture, and objective decisions can become impossible. Here are examples:

  • Industry: Certain industries keep on the same old hiring path. For example, tech companies may think men are better employees than women. Construction bosses likely hire men, and you’ll notice that most general retail clothing employees are women.
  • Markets: Companies may not expand into economically challenged communities or communities of color because of ingrained bias.
  • Job functions: Brain surgeons, firefighters, and bus drivers all have jobs where failure has very high costs, including loss of life. Nevertheless, these jobs have a large disparity in wages, because some are considered to be held by “unskilled” workers. This is a pervasive and damaging bias.

    A recent article in Forbes highlights this form of job function bias: When companies assume that their low-wage employees are also low skill, they do not feel they need to pay them more or consider them for better-paying positions. Companies also don’t allow or encourage these workers to have much autonomy or initiative. 
  • Business/division: This is similar to the previous two biases. Companies can have a blind spot about someone from a different business or division, fearing they won’t “fit in,” and would-be employees never even get to prove they can make a contribution.
  • Geographic location: A 2018 study in the Journal of Human Resources found a bias against job candidates who lived farther from the job location. If the position is in an urban downtown, where rents are high, this location bias also ends up also being a socio-economic bias. 

    “A person could move to a distant, low-rent neighborhood because they face a temporary economic difficulty and then become trapped by their address,” study author David Phillips wrote in Harvard Business Review. “Explicit bias does not need to be present to reinforce inequity.”