EVERFI Content Team

Regardless of how open-minded and self-aware we may believe we are, we are all at some level impacted by unconscious biases—beliefs and feelings about others that are shaped by personal experiences, what we’ve learned, or even by the absence of experience or information–we’re not even aware of. Unconscious bias leadership training can help raise awareness of the harmful effects of workplace unconscious biases and provide strategies for preventing them.

Unconscious Bias: What Is It, How Does it Affect Our Actions and Decisions

Writing for Forbes, Michael Brainard, CEO and Founder of Brainard Strategy, a management consulting firm specializing in leadership development, tells us that unconscious bias “is a form of ‘social categorization,’ whereby we rapidly and routinely sort people into groups.”

It’s important to note, though, that we don’t actively realize that we’re doing this. It’s the “unconscious” part of this process that can be problematic. 

While the term “unconscious bias” is relatively new, the idea that we may be unaware of our own biases is a concept that Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham addressed in their Johari window model back in 1955. “Johari” comes from their two first names. It’s a model depicted through four quadrants that indicate the extent to which we are, or are not, aware of our own perceptions.

The Johari Window Model

The two quadrants that align with unconscious bias are “blind spot” (not known to self but known to others) and “unknown” (not known to either self or to others).

These perceptions we have that are unknown to us have the potential to impact our relationships with others in a variety of ways. In organizational settings, unconscious biases can impact our hiring and promotion decisions, the extent to which we include others or are likely to be open to their input, and decisions about who we spend time with or who we “like.”

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How Leaders Can Build a Better Workplace by Focusing on Unconscious Bias

The first step in addressing the potential impacts of workplace unconscious bias is recognizing that we have these biases. Leaders can play a significant role here. Conversations that flag unconscious bias can occur at times when critical decisions are being made—for instance, decisions related to recruiting for open positions, interviewing applicants, extending offers for employment, making promotions, assigning staff to special projects, etc. In addition, leaders can help employees be alert to their unconscious biases during any of a wide range of interactions they may be involved with on a day-to-day basis: giving or receiving constructive feedback, collaborating on projects, etc. 

Examples of Unconscious Bias in the Workplace


When recruiting our unconscious biases may lead us to use certain communication channels to advertise job openings. Or, as we review applicants, we may be positively oriented to certain types of employees, with certain types of backgrounds and experiences that align with our own.


When hiring we are most likely to be drawn to people who are like us—who share our backgrounds and beliefs. That can drive a tendency to create departments and organizations where everyone looks and thinks alike. This doesn’t lend itself to the ability to encourage diversity of backgrounds, opinions, and thoughts—the kind of diversity that can lead to innovation.

Performance Evaluation

As managers review others, they are also subject to biases they may not be conscious of. Those biases may impact how they evaluate others’ performance and drive the ratings they assign to employees.

Promotions and Special Projects

Our unconscious biases impact every aspect of the employee life cycle, including who is selected for promotions and special projects. While the tendency to be favorably predisposed to certain individuals because of our biases is pervasive, it is as we’ve noted unconscious meaning we are not aware it’s happening and, consequently, we’re not aware of the potential negative impacts on employees—and the organization.

Don’t believe that you have unconscious biases that may impact the employee-related choices you make and actions you take in your relationships with them? Taking an unconscious bias test like the Implicit Association Test (IAT) from Harvard can help you learn more about your own beliefs and biases. 

Awareness is the first step toward minimizing the impact of unconscious bias in the workplace.  

Leadership Training Can Help Reduce Workplace Unconscious Bias  

Leadership training that incorporates a focus on unconscious bias—identifying it in ourselves and others and how to take steps to minimize its impacts–is important for any organization. One of the key benefits of training is raising awareness of unconscious bias and providing a forum for self-exploration and discussion. Teaching leaders how to incorporate simple bias mitigation techniques in their leadership practices can go a long way to address unconscious bias in the workplace.

Bringing the issue out into the open can help minimize its impacts and potential negative effects.  Learn more about how unconscious bias training can offer benefits to your organization.

Unconscious Bias Training

Manage unconscious bias in the workplace to create a foundation for an inclusive workplace culture.