For more information please call  800.727.2766


Strategies for Combatting Implicit Bias in the Workplace

As the workplace continues to evolve amidst post-COVID dynamics, embracing remote work, in-office setups, and hybrid models, one enduring challenge persists: the presence of implicit bias influencing workplace interactions and decisions. We all desire a workplace free from bias where our individuality is acknowledged and our contributions to our team’s success are appreciated. However, unmitigated implicit bias can serve as a roadblock to achieving this ideal.

The continued presence of implicit bias in the workplace can be attributed to the challenge people face in recognizing and defining its true nature. Moreover, implicit bias, which “encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, often operates beyond an individual's awareness or intentional control.”[1]

This inherent characteristic complicates endeavors to eliminate it from the workplace since individuals may remain unconscious of their biases and unaware that they influence their actions. It is easier to eradicate explicit bias and prejudice because it is overt and often glaringly evident in behavior or language, thereby making it easier to identify and control.

For instance, in our workplace complaint investigations, workplace trainings, and general HR consulting, we frequently hear concerns relating to implicit biases that impact how people perceive and interact in the workplace. A better understanding and articulation of the true nature of implicit bias can indeed empower us to effectively combat its presence in the workplace.

What is Implicit Bias?

“Implicit bias refers to the subconscious attitudes, beliefs, or stereotypes that individuals hold about certain groups of people, which can influence their behaviors and decisions without their conscious awareness.”[2]

Although individuals may prefer to believe they are immune to implicit biases and stereotypes, the truth is that everyone is susceptible to them, often unconsciously. However, acknowledging these biases doesn't imply inherent prejudice or a propensity to discriminate against others. Instead, it reflects the brain's natural tendency to form associations and generalize information.

Studies of Implicit Bias

In 1995, two social psychology researchers Anthony Greenwald and Mahzarin Banaji hypothesized that the concepts of implicit and explicit memory can also be extended to social constructs which can influence our attitudes and behavior.[3] In 1998, in a seminal article Greenwald, McGhee and Schwartz presented their paper which expanded on this theory of implicit social cognition and how to measure it.[4] These studies form the basis of the Implicit Association Test (IAT) which is the gold standard for measuring implicit bias, and has amassed over 4,000 citations, solidifying its status as one of the most influential advancements in psychology over the past few decades.[5]

How is Implicit Bias Measured?

Today there are several tests used to measure implicit bias, but the IAT remains one of the most widely used tests in the world. The goal of the IAT is to “reveal unconscious attitudes, automatic preferences, and hidden biases by measuring the time that it takes an individual to classify concepts into two categories.”[6]

Participants engage with a computer program that displays words and images, gauging the amount of time it takes for them to select between the presented options. “For example, if a participant reacts significantly faster when pairing the word Success with Skinny (Category A) than with Fat (category B), Success and Skinny are implicitly more associated, more interconnected in the participant's mind. Depending on how the experimental design was defined, we could infer that the participant may give too much importance to body image, or that they are just another victim of certain advertisements we are all surrounded by.”[7]

Effects of Implicit Bias in the Workplace

In the workplace, implicit bias can contribute to a toxic work environment, where people aren’t valued because of their race, gender, physical disability, age, religious ideology, socio-economic status or sexual orientation. When implicit bias becomes ingrained, it may undermine the value of certain opinions, resulting in missed opportunities, overlooking better-qualified individuals for promotions, less collaboration, disgruntled team members, and ultimately, making less favorable business decisions.

Now that we understand the meaning and elusive nature of implicit bias, how it is measured and the problems it causes for businesses, what steps can business leaders take to mitigate its impact in your workplace? 

Ways to Mitigate Implicit Bias in the Workplace

  1. Examine instances of implicit bias (generalizing about a person based on some demographic) within the workplace to develop the ability to recognize it effectively.
  2. Endeavor to acquaint oneself with teammates on an individual level, rather than resorting to stereotypes for classification purposes.
  3. Upon harboring a specific belief regarding a teammate, endeavor to perceive it from their perspective and engage in introspection to ascertain its accuracy.
  4. In the event of uncertainty, engage in dialogue with the colleague or teammate to seek clarification and ascertain the veracity of the initial assessment.
  5. Participate in formal training sessions focused on implicit bias to gain awareness and insights into strategies for mitigating its effects.
To create a culture of success, it is essential that businesses identify and overcome implicit bias in the workplace, as these biases have demonstrated a detrimental impact. Establishing a more inclusive and equitable workplace not only benefits the bottom line but also fosters enhanced communication, diversity of thought, stronger teams, improved collaboration, and ultimately, better business outcomes. At the end of the day, the mitigation of implicit bias is vital for the advancement of our workplace and society as a whole.


[1] Rudman LA. Social justice in our minds, homes, and society: The nature, causes and consequences of implicit bias. Social Justice Research, 17(2):129-142.

[2]  Staats C. State of the science: Implicit bias review 2014. Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity.

[3] Greenwald, A. G.; Banaji, M. R. (1995). "Implicit social cognition: Attitudes, self-esteem, and stereotypes". Psychological Review. 102 (1): 4–27.

[4] Greenwald, A. G.; McGhee, D.E.; Schwartz, J.L.K. (1998). "Measuring Individual Differences in Implicit Cognition: The Implicit Association Test". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol. 74, No. 6, 1464-1480.

[5] Ortner, Tuulia M.; Van De Vijver, Fons J.R (June 2015). Behavior-based assessment in psychology: going beyond self-report in the personality, affective, motivation, and social domains. Vijver, Fons J. R. van de Ortner, Tuulia M. Toronto, Ontario.

See also, Greenwald, A. G.; McGhee, D. E.; Schwartz, J. K. L. (1998). "Measuring individual differences in implicit cognition: The Implicit Association Test". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology74 (6): 1464–1480.

[6] Ocejo, C., Lopez, M. (2024, March 21). What is an Implicit Association Test (IAT)? BitBrain. What is an Implicit Association Test (IAT)?

[7] Id.