identifying bias in the workplace

We all have biases that color our perception of the world. There are dozens of kinds of biases that can negatively impact your hiring practices, feedback, and creative work. In our Identifying Bias series, we will be looking at the common types of bias that can take place in each of these areas, and share strategies for how to best minimize them.

Giving your employees useful feedback is critical. But you can’t give your employees useful notes if your review is anchored in bias. One study showed that “more than half of the variance associated with ratings had more to do with the quirks of the person giving the rating than the person being rated.” This allows for the potential of idiosyncratic rater bias, or when a rater will rank skills they’re not good at highly, while ranking skills they are great at lower. This results in a review that says more about the rater than the employee. Other forms of bias include:

    • Recency bias happens when a reviewer places more importance on the work an employee has done recently rather than on what is most important in a given period
    • The halo effect is when you emphasize and focus on one good trait that someone has rather than evaluating all of their skills. The horn effect, on the other hand, is when you focus on one negative trait rather than look at the employee’s contributions as a whole.
  • Benevolence bias can occur when a reviewer might want to be especially kind to an employee so they make decisions on their behalf rather than giving them the choice. An example of this is when a reviewer might soften criticism for a female presenting employee, limiting the utility of the feedback.
  • Affinity Bias occurs when a reviewer values an employee’s contributions because they have a lot in common with the employee. 
  • Gender Bias can result in employees prioritizing the attitudes of female-presenting employees while prioritizing the performance of male-presenting employees.  This bias can occur throughout the gender spectrum and impact gender nonconforming individuals as well.


There are steps you can take to improve your evaluative skills and avoid bias in feedback. Create a dialogue that empowers employees to be vocal about any accommodations or assistance they may need. This can help you determine if an employee isn’t meeting expectations because of an accessibility issue. Develop a habit of collecting feedback on employees at different points throughout the year to create a holistic picture of their performance and combat recency bias.


Methodologies of Mentorship: An Interview with Selena Wilson the new President of the East Oakland Youth Development Center (EOYDC)
Selena Wilson

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