Are These 17 Biases Affecting You as a Leader? The Answer Is Likely Yes — Here's How to Address Them. Having biases is an inherent part of being human, but that doesn't mean we don't have the responsibility to manage them and make sure they don't impact the way we lead.
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Leaders need to care about bias because it directly impacts organizational success, employee well-being and overall inclusivity. Bias can cloud judgment and lead to flawed decision-making processes. When we choose not to manage bias in the workplace, it can create a hostile or unwelcoming environment, leading to decreased employee engagement and increased turnover. Leaders who actively address bias foster a culture of inclusivity and belonging, which helps attract and retain diverse talent and boosts overall employee satisfaction.
Inclusive leaders that prioritize diversity, inclusion and fairness are more likely to have a positive reputation in the eyes of stakeholders, including employees, customers and investors. When we actively combat biases, we demonstrate a true commitment to equity, we attract a broader customer base, increase customer loyalty and enhance brand value.
Today's leader needs to know their biases and manages their biases to be more inclusive.
Know your biases
To be a leader is to be human, and humans have biases. If you're looking to become more self-aware about your biases as a leader, consider assessing your bias in these areas:
- Implicit association bias: This bias occurs when we unconsciously associate certain groups or concepts with positive or negative attributes.
- Confirmation bias: The tendency to selectively notice, interpret or remember information that confirms our existing beliefs or expectations.
- Availability heuristic: The tendency to rely on readily available examples or information that comes to mind easily when making judgments or decisions.
- Halo effect: The tendency to form an overall positive impression of a person based on one positive characteristic or quality.
- Horns effect: The opposite of the halo effect, it involves forming an overall negative impression of a person based on one negative characteristic or quality.
- Anchoring bias: The tendency to rely too heavily on the first piece of information encountered when making decisions, even if it is irrelevant or of low quality.
- Stereotyping: The generalization of certain characteristics or traits to an entire group of people, which can lead to biased judgments or treatment.
- Beauty bias: The tendency to perceive attractive individuals as more competent, likable and trustworthy than less attractive individuals.
- In-group bias: The inclination to favor members of our own group over those from different groups.
- Out-group homogeneity bias: The tendency to perceive individuals in an out-group as more similar to each other than they actually are.
- Authority bias: The tendency to attribute greater credibility or competence to individuals in positions of authority or high status.
- Affinity bias: The tendency to prefer or feel more positively towards people who are similar to ourselves in terms of background, interests or demographics.
- Fundamental attribution error: The tendency to attribute others' behavior to their internal characteristics or disposition, while attributing our own behavior to external circumstances.
- Self-serving bias: The tendency to attribute our successes to internal factors and our failures to external factors, protecting our self-esteem.
- Gender bias: The tendency to hold unconscious biases based on gender, leading to differential treatment or evaluation of individuals.
- Racial bias: Unconscious biases based on race or ethnicity, which can affect perceptions, judgments and treatment of individuals from different racial backgrounds.
- Ageism: Bias or discrimination based on a person's age, often leading to stereotypes and differential treatment of younger or older individuals.
The most common form of bias is ageism. In fact, most people prefer younger-looking people to older people when studied on the Implicit Association Test. We're biased against older versions of ourselves!
Take a look through the list and take an inventory of the biases you might have. If you're unsure of where your biases might lie, there are more than 12 options Harvard offers through Project Implicit.
Practice managing your biases
Once you have a good understanding of where your biases might lie, forgive yourself. To be biased is to be human. There's nothing wrong with you if you have bias. Yet, you do have an obligation to manage your biases. If you want to show up more inclusively, consider these ideas:
- Flip it to test it: Global HR leader Kristen Pressner studies bias in the workplace. In a TED Talk on the subject, she recommends that when questioning bias, ask, "Would this still make sense if we flipped the dimension of diversity?" For example, if we are questioning a working mother's commitment to the workplace, would we question it the same as a working father? If it doesn't make sense, there's likely bias at play.
- Diversify your network: Actively seek out and include diverse perspectives in decision-making processes and with who you choose to spend time. We are a representation of the strongest relationships and if those relationships are homogenous, we lose out on diverse perspectives. This can be done through advisory boards, focus groups or diverse hiring panels to ensure that multiple viewpoints are considered.
- Engage an ally: Ask around and find a strong ally to check in with. This could be a formal coaching relationship or someone you know who cares about you. It is critical for leaders to understand their own biases, challenge assumptions and develop strategies to counteract them. Having a sounding board improves your chances of success.
- Encourage feedback and accountability: Foster an environment where individuals feel comfortable providing feedback and calling out bias when they observe it. Establish accountability measures to ensure that bias is actively addressed and that individuals are held responsible for their actions.
By recognizing the importance of bias and taking proactive steps to mitigate its impact, leaders can create a culture that values diversity, promotes fairness, and drives organizational success. Ultimately, leaders who care about bias are better positioned to create inclusive and thriving workplaces that attract top talent, foster innovation and achieve sustainable growth.