Conscious bias refers to having deliberate opinions, or attitudes towards a group of people or individuals based on their characteristics such as race, gender, age, religion, or nationality.

What is conscious bias?

Conscious bias – also known as explicit bias or explicit prejudice – refers to the attitudes, and behaviors that people intentionally exhibit towards certain groups based on their identity. This includes their race, gender, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.

Unlike unconscious bias, which occurs automatically and unconsciously, conscious bias is a deliberate decision to discriminate or stereotype others.

Conscious bias can intersect with other forms of oppression – such as racism, homophobia or sexism. The intersectionality can complicate how conscious bias manifests, as people can experience discrimination in multiple ways simultaneously.

If you are consciously biased, it means you are aware of your biases and are actively choosing to discriminate based on your preconceived or unreasonable inclinations or feelings.

The conscious bias definition

To better understand the term, it’s important to define what it is and how it differs from unconscious or implicit bias.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “bias” is a preconceived or unreasonable specific inclination, idea, or feeling about someone. It arises typically based on preconceived prejudices towards physical attributes like skin color, gender, age, etc., which are all often immediately recognizable.

Thus, conscious bias refers to the intentional attitudes, beliefs, and actions an individual holds and expresses towards a particular individual or group. Unconscious bias is, naturally, when one is not being deliberately biased, which is the main difference between the two terms.

The cost of conscious bias

Conscious bias can have adverse effects on individuals and society as a whole. For example, when it goes unchecked, unconscious bias can lead to reduced opportunities for individuals from marginalized groups, the perpetuation of stereotypes, and exclusionary practices.

It can also contribute to developing and maintaining systemic inequality and discrimination.

For businesses, it can harm organizational culture, employee morale, and productivity. Moreover, in some cases, institutional practices and policies in the form of discriminatory hiring practices or unequal pay for certain groups can reinforce conscious bias.

The impact of bias in the workplace

One of the immediate impacts on the workplace is the toxic workplace culture it can create. For example, if individuals in the workplace hold biases against certain groups of people, they may feel free to express their prejudice – which might lead to discrimination and harassment.

The result of such a thing would be a hostile work environment where employees feel undervalued and marginalized. Other than leading to low morale, this can also lead to high turnover rates. 

Conscious bias can also relate to hiring and promotion decisions. For example, if a manager is biased against women or people of color, they may actively overlook them for promotions, or discriminate against qualified candidates during the hiring process.

As a result, it may impact the diversity and inclusivity of the workplace and potentially affect the ability of the business to be innovative, attract leading talent, or develop a negative reputation.

Talented employees might leave

If a manager is biased against LGBTQ+ individuals, he or she may deny them the same opportunities for growth and development as other employees. 

For example, if an engineering company has a talented engineer, who happens to also be LGBTQ, the manager’s prejudice might negatively affect the engineer. This is another example of conscious bias in the workplace.

In that scenario, the result is that talented employees leave the company, harming its productivity and reputation.

What causes conscious bias?

The causes of conscious bias are complex and multifaceted. However, they often stem from socialization and personal experiences.

For example, a person who grows up in an environment where racism or homophobia is normalized may develop conscious biases that they are unaware of. 

Similarly, media representations and cultural messages can also contribute to developing conscious biases.

Examples of conscious bias

Conscious bias can manifest in many ways, such as discriminatory behavior, speech, or decision-making based on explicit beliefs or attitudes. Additionally, it can occur in both personal and professional contexts.

Examples of conscious bias in a personal context can include discriminatory behavior or speech towards individuals based on race, gender, sexuality, disability etc.

In professional contexts, great examples are discriminatory hiring practices, unequal pay, or promotions based on personal connections rather than merit.

Here are other examples:

The examples illustrate how bias can be detrimental to individuals and organizations. This is why addressing and eliminating conscious bias from decision-making processes is essential.

How to address and eliminate conscious bias

Addressing and eliminating conscious bias can be a challenging process. Fortunately, it is possible, since this form of bias is conscious and deliberate. However, it requires a willingness to acknowledge and challenge one’s bias and commit to creating a more inclusive and equitable environment for everyone.

Below are some steps that can be taken.

1. Recognizing and acknowledging the problem

The first step to addressing bias is to become aware of it. Thus, individuals should take the time to reflect on their attitudes and beliefs to recognize any biases they may hold.

Examples might involve:

2. Educating oneself

A tip to address conscious bias is to educate oneself about it. For instance, individuals can learn about different cultures and groups to overcome prejudice.

Examples might involve:

3. Encouraging diverse perspectives

Workplaces or other organizations can create opportunities for diverse perspectives to feel they are in an environment where their voices are valued.

Examples might involve:

4. Monitoring decision-making processes

Another great way to eliminate conscious bias is to monitor decision-making processes – for instance, in organizations. This ensures that biases do not play a role in the decision-making when a company hires or promotes.

Examples might involve:

5. Accountability

One of the more obvious steps is to hold people accountable. If a workplace, for instance, holds employees accountable for their discriminatory actions, it can help eliminate the bias.

Examples might involve:

6. Challenging stereotypes

Individuals can challenge stereotypes by recognizing and correcting them when they arise.

Examples might involve:

A real-life example of how to combat bias

All of the above are general examples of addressing and eliminating conscious bias. But there are, in fact, real-life examples.

The example below is how the online marketplace for rental homes, Airbnb, fought discrimination and conscious bias.

Airbnb – Diversity and belonging

In its early years, Airbnb struggled with discrimination against non-white guests. According to a report in 2020 from the company itself, guests in the marketplace perceived to be non-white were less successful at booking properties than others.

In response, the company created a team to tackle the issue and implemented new policies. Additionally, they launched an ad campaign called “We Accept” to promote inclusivity and fight the discrimination that their guests have been experiencing.

A more equitable and inclusive society as a result

One can create a more equitable and inclusive society by understanding the causes of conscious bias and implementing effective strategies to address the bias.

Confronting our biases and acknowledging their impact can be uncomfortable. But doing so is necessary to create a more inclusive and diverse world – whether in our personal relationships, workplaces, or communities.

Ultimately, taking action to eliminate conscious bias is the right thing to do as it benefits individuals and organizations and leads to greater creativity, innovation, and success.

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