What is Unconscious Bias in the Workplace?
Unconscious bias is a phenomenon that occurs when a human being forms opinions about their present experience based on their past. All human beings experience unconscious bias, which is a physiologic function that occurs in the brain. When the amygdala finds a memory (sight, taste, smell, feeling, thought, or experience) in the hippocampus that appears to match what is occurring in the present moment, it brings that memory forward and the brain uses that past memory to make sense of the current moment. Unconscious bias is a survival mechanism developed when humans' main concerns were staying alive. It can be a useful tool in the modern age as when we avoid a car accident through a split second reaction. Or a vector for harmful bias when someone we just met reminds us of someone from our past.
When an employee has an experience (real or perceived) that they are being treated differently than others, they are likely to attribute this to an experience they had in their past. If this was a negative experience, the employee conflates both experiences and believes that they are being biased against in the present moment. They will attribute this bias to one or many diversity dimensions (visible and invisible) they possess.