How can we tackle bias against difference in the workplace?

This phenomenon is known as affinity bias. It, also known as similarity bias, is the tendency people have to connect with others who share similar interests, experiences and backgrounds.

Affinity bias occurs when we see someone we feel we have an affinity with; maybe we attended the same college, we grew up in the same town, or they remind us of someone we know and like.

When we interview someone we feel we have some affinity with, our micro-affirmations play out a bit more than they usually would. For instance, if they tell us they’re a little nervous we may smile at them more or offer more words of encouragement. Whereas, if a person we shared no affinity with told us the same thing, we perhaps wouldn’t be quite as warm towards them as we had been to the candidate we felt we shared a connection with. 

When companies hire for ‘culture fit,’ they are likely falling prey to affinity bias. When hiring teams meet someone they like and who they know will get along with the team, it’s more often than not because that person shares similar interests, experiences and backgrounds, which is not helping your team grow and diversify. While similarities shouldn’t automatically disqualify a candidate, they should never be the deciding factor, either.

Ways to avoid affinity bias: Actively take note of the similarities you share with the candidate so that you can differentiate between attributes that may cloud your judgement and the concrete skills, experiences and unique qualities that would contribute to your team as a ‘culture add’ rather than ‘culture fit.’ 

What you can do: If you realize that a colleague who is a man only mentors other men, talk to your colleague. Explain why mentoring is so valuable and share your observation that he only mentors men. Recommend he mentor at least one woman, and offer to help him identify a few promising candidates. If he confides he’s uncomfortable being alone with women, point out that there are plenty of public places to meet—and remind him that mentorship really matters.

Lean In and McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace report shows that 59% of Black women have never had an informal interaction with a senior leader.

Ngoc Diu