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  • Writer's pictureAbbey Salvas

What is Bias?: A Definition, Why It Matters, and How to Address It

When having discussions around diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), the topic of bias often comes up—with good reason. Bias is pervasive and understanding it is essential to making progress in one’s DEI efforts. However, the terms bias, prejudice, discrimination, and racism (and others!) are often confused and used inappropriately. This blog aims to clarify these concepts and discuss why recognizing and addressing bias is crucial for fostering a more inclusive organization.

What Is Bias?

Bias refers to a tendency to favor or disfavor something, someone, or a group, often unconsciously. It stems from our brain's natural inclination to categorize information quickly. This can lead to automatic preferences or aversions that influence our decisions and behaviors without us being aware of it.  

For example, you might instinctively trust someone who looks like you more than someone who doesn't, even if both individuals are equally trustworthy. This type of bias is called the similarity-attraction bias, or “the tendency to more easily and deeply connect with people who “look and feel” like ourselves.” Some other types of bias are: 

  • Familiarity bias: A preference for things that we are familiar with  

  • Confirmation bias: Seeking or interpreting information that is partial to existing beliefs  

  • Halo/Horns effect: The tendency to allow one specific trait of a person to positively/negatively influence our judgment of their other traits 

There are over 200 types of bias that we navigate on a daily basis. Below is a graphic showing some of these biases: 

How is bias different than prejudice or racism? 

While bias is an inclination or preference, prejudice involves preconceived opinions that are not based on reason or actual experience. Prejudice is often negative and can lead to discriminatory behavior. Racism, on the other hand, is a form of prejudice that specifically targets people based on their race. It involves systemic oppression and unequal power dynamics, often embedded in societal structures and institutions.  

So, in other words, our biases may lead to prejudice, discrimination, and racism but that is not inherently always the case. We have the opportunity as individuals to interrupt this process and avoid the potential negative effects of our biases. 

Why is it important to understand our biases? 

Recognizing bias is crucial for several reasons: 

  1. Fairness: Bias can lead to unfair treatment of individuals or groups, perpetuating inequality. 

  2. Relationships: Biases can strain relationships at work and hinder effective communication and collaboration.

  3. Organizational Success: Studies have shown that individuals who experience bias more likely to be disengaged from their work, resulting in less productivity and higher likelihood of turnover. 

How can you address bias?

Addressing bias requires proactive and continuous effort. Here are some effective strategies: 

  1. Educate yourself: Engage in regular learning about different cultures, histories, and perspectives. This can help dismantle stereotypes and build empathy. 

  2. Practice reflection: Regularly reflect on your thoughts, decisions, and behaviors. Ask yourself if bias may have played a role. 

  3. Seek interactions with people who are different from you: Surround yourself with a diverse group of people. This exposure can challenge and reduce biases. 

  4. Promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in your organization: Advocate for and implement policies that promote equity and inclusion in your workplace. This includes fair hiring practices, inclusive language, and equitable access to opportunities. 

  5. Promote psychological safety: Create an environment where feedback is encouraged and valued. This helps individuals recognize and address their biases. 

Understanding bias and how it operates is a critical component of DEI efforts. By distinguishing it from other related constructs, we can more effectively address the subtle ways it influences our behavior and decision-making. Through self-awareness, education, and intentional actions, we can work towards creating more inclusive and equitable environments for everyone.  

Looking to learn more about how you can reduce bias and enhance inclusion in your organization? Contact us at Plan to Action today to drive meaningful change, together. 

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