Affinity bias refers to a subconscious preference (affinity) towards others who share similar qualities or characteristics as oneself.
What is affinity bias? The affinity bias definition
According to Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries, the definition of “affinity” is a strong feeling that one understands someone/something and likes them/it.
Thus, the affinity bias definition is the human tendency to favor others who share similar characteristics with ourselves – such as background, interests, education, or experience. It is a specific type of in-group bias based on personal connections/perceived similarities.
Additionally, the bias is unintentional and based on the natural human tendency to feel more comfortable and trusting with people whom we perceive as similar to ourselves. While this might be a helpful instinct in certain situations, it can lead to discrimination of those who do not share the same characteristics.
Because it is unintentional and happens without our awareness, it is a type of unconscious bias. It is also referred to as similarity bias.
Affinity bias in the workplace
Affinity bias in the workplace can manifest in various ways and influence decision-making in many areas, such as hiring, promotion, and team building.
For example, during an interview process, interviewers might find themselves more prone to liking candidates whose views and personalities appear to be in common with their own.
If an interviewee has the same educational background, matching professional qualifications that match the interviews’ own, a relatable age, or similar socioeconomic background, the interviewer might unconsciously favor that candidate.
Thus, the bias limits opportunities for diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
The effects of affinity bias at work
Here is a list of examples to illustrate the effect of workplace affinity bias:
Unguided decisions about hiring and promoting
Suppose a hiring manager hires an individual based on their assumed attributes rather than actual qualifications and experience. In that case, the manager risks missing out on suitable candidates who could have benefitted the organization more.
Another example is when a leader promotes someone with whom they are familiar, and yet that someone lacks the essential qualifications that other employees have.
Dismissing new ideas
Managers can rely on their teams to help with tasks. But the challenge is not to fall prey to affinity bias while doing so by leaning towards those videos and ideas that are similar to their own. This leads to dismissing new ideas that could have been beneficial.
If a manager only works with similar-minded individuals, it will limit diversity in terms of culture, ideas, and character. Additionally, if someone in authority keeps disregarding new ideas due to unconscious or implicit bias, it may cause the company to remain stuck competitively.
Affinity bias – examples from the workplace
Here is a list of specific examples of how affinity bias can manifest in the workplace:
- A hiring manager might be more likely to hire someone who went to the same university, even if another candidate has better qualifications. Similarly, a manager may prefer to promote an employee who shares similar interests, hobbies, or cultural background.
- If a group of employees go out after work, they may invite only those who share similar hobbies, creating exclusion and leaving others out.
- Employees may prefer to work with colleagues they are more familiar with, rather than seeking diverse perspectives.
- If a manager has a preference for certain employees, they may provide them with better mentoring opportunities, networking events or projects. This results in missed opportunities for other employees, potentially limiting their professional growth.
- When managers evaluate an employee’s performance, they might unknowingly have a bias and lower expectations or make assumptions based on the employee’s background. This can result in employees not being recognized for their contributions, limiting their professional growth.
Promote inclusivity with affinity groups
An affinity group is a group of people who share an “affinity” – a particular characteristic such as gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.
The purpose of an affinity group is to provide a supportive community for underrepresented individuals. Additionally, the groups help promote inclusivity in the workplace and provide a supportive environment and community for the underrepresented.
However, such groups can further marginalize individuals who do not share the same characteristics, which is why they should welcome all individuals, regardless of their background or characteristics.
Awareness helps eliminate bias in the workplace
Creating a culture of inclusivity and diversity requires everyone to actively work towards breaking down biases to foster a more inclusive environment.
Here is a list of more concrete examples of ways to eliminate bias as an organization:
- Provide training and strategies to help employees understand the impact of bias to mitigate its effects.
- Use objective criteria when making decisions in hiring, promotions, and performance evaluations.
- Create a culture of open communication to encourage employees to feel comfortable sharing experiences and providing feedback on how the organization can improve its inclusivity efforts.