What is affinity bias?

Affinity bias is a type of unconscious bias. Unconscious biases are implicit beliefs shaped by past experiences, patterns, or assumptions. They can help us make safer, more efficient decisions—like when we swerve to avoid debris in the road without thinking. However, our unconscious biases can also harm others. Bias leads to stereotyping and exclusion.

If your subconscious choices only benefit people you have things in common with, it’s because of affinity bias. It’s normal to gravitate towards people you like, or who share your interests, cultural backgrounds, and personal experiences. However, affinity bias gets in the way of diverse hiring and inclusive workplaces.

What is affinity bias in the workplace?

In everyday life, affinity bias might lead you to interact with people who share your cultural background. It can cause you to gravitate toward others who share your religion. Or maybe you’re only inspired to make new friends with people from your hometown. These choices might happen on an unconscious level, but they can result in missed opportunities.

What about in the workplace? Affinity bias has a negative impact on day-to-day work, the interview process, hiring decisions, and promotions. It clouds decision-making, reduces diversity, and increases groupthink. To build truly inclusive workplaces, organizations must welcome the different perspectives of others. To ensure people of all backgrounds are valued at your organization, make a conscious effort to combat affinity bias.

How does affinity bias impact hiring and promotions?

Many types of bias, including affinity bias, influence hiring and promotions. Instead of conducting objective, accurate evaluations, personal biases influence decision-makers. For example, recruiters may hire people who went to the same school as them, or managers only promote employees who share their sense of humor. Not only is this unfair, but it results in homogenous workspaces and less diverse leadership teams.

What are examples of affinity bias in everyday work situations?

To avoid affinity bias, discover some of the most common ways it impacts hiring and the workplace. 

Favoring a candidate or employee who shares similar backgrounds, experiences, or interests

Recruiters and talent acquisition professionals are faced with countless decisions every day. Teams lose out on great candidates when bias influences those decisions. For instance, hiring managers may choose to connect with job seekers who went to the same prestigious university they did, are from the same state, or volunteer at the same place they do. Instead of making thoughtful choices, they neglect great candidates in favor of people with common interests. The same process can also sway which employees receive promotions, growth opportunities, or mentorship.

Gravitating towards colleagues who are similar in terms of interests, hobbies, or demographics

It might be easier to make friends with people who share interests, but this behavior doesn’t foster welcoming, inclusive workplaces. Exclusively networking based on shared hobbies or political views leaves out other great people. Only mentoring individuals who look or act like you has the same effect. A healthy organization includes people with various experiences and perspectives. Diverse groups work more quickly, effectively, and creatively. If you only work closely with people similar to you, you’ll miss out on these benefits.

Assigning specific projects or responsibilities based on personal preferences rather than merit

Team leaders or managers influenced by affinity bias give more opportunities to employees based on shared preferences. Instead of assessing individuals based on skill and ability, team leaders only give advantages to people that they like or people who remind them of themselves. Potentially well-qualified people are overlooked and don’t receive the same chances to learn new skills and enhance their resumes. This impacts career advancement opportunities and is especially harmful to underrepresented groups, such as BIPOC employees and women.

Providing more positive feedback or leniency in evaluations to employees who are similar

Leaders or hiring team members influenced by affinity bias are more likely to give favorable performance reviews to people whom they have a natural connection with. They might examine some employees more critically while giving leeway to others. This is a disadvantage for people who don’t have much in common with recruiters or their leadership. For instance, a manager might give warmer feedback to an employee who enjoys the same sports, while overlooking the employee who doesn’t watch sports at all. Even if unintentional, this kind of behavior is unfair and contributes to inaccurate evaluations. 

Including employees with similar interests or backgrounds in meetings or discussions

Managers in charge of organizing meetings or critical discussions may only include top-of-mind people, like coworkers they’ve befriended over shared interests. However, solely engaging with employees who hold things in common reduces diversity of thought. The resulting decisions could disadvantage employees from underrepresented groups or only benefit employees in the “in crowd”. Lack of diversity in decision-making also contributes to less effective and innovative companies.

Favoring employees with similar communication styles

Team leaders who favor employees with similar communication styles are affected by affinity bias. For instance, they might exclusively pursue the ideas of extroverted people or praise the contributions of men. This leaves out introverted employees and women or nonbinary colleagues. Or, they might seek input from employees with an academic vocabulary, while subconsciously overlooking people who aren’t native English speakers from the United States. In both of these instances, affinity bias has more influence than actual ability, intelligence, or skill. 

Offering growth opportunities like training or workshops to employees with similar affinities 

Affinity bias means skills training, workshop opportunities, or mentorship programs are more readily available to employees who are similar to their managers. Practices like this ensure only the same kinds of people have the chance to improve their skills, which makes it even harder for underrepresented employees to further their careers. All employees should be allowed to develop as professionals, not just the ones who act, look, or think like leadership does.

Are there any legal implications or regulations related to affinity bias?

It’s illegal to discriminate against protected classes, including historically disadvantaged communities, people from underrepresented groups, and vulnerable individuals. All types of bias can lead to unlawful discrimination. Though unconscious bias might be difficult to detect at first, organizations that don’t address affinity bias are also legally at risk. If a discriminatory pattern emerges in a company’s hiring process or promotion rates, they may be subject to legal action. 

Not only does discrimination lead to legal difficulty, but it’s also unethical. It’s not right to treat people poorly based on personal preference. Everyone deserves equal opportunities for employment, advancement, and success. Beyond that, organizations committed to the success of their environmental social governance (ESG) programs should proactively mitigate all kinds of bias, including affinity bias.

Learn more about preventing affinity bias in the workplace

Reduce unconscious bias at your workplace, starting with your hiring and recruitment process. Don’t hire people just because they look, act, or think like you—open up your talent pool to include all kinds of people. 

Inclusive job descriptions are a great way to attract a range of people to your organization, while video interviews help foster accountability and objective decision-making. If you’re ready to combat bias and build a more welcoming, diverse workplace, reach out to our sales team today!

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