Skip to content

How to overcome affinity bias: A step-by-step guide

10 min read
affinity bias

According to Deloitte’s 2019State of Inclusionsurvey,39% of respondents claim to experience bias in the workplace at least once a month. One form of bias that employees might encounter isaffinity bias. This occurs when someoneunconsciously favors those with shared interests, backgrounds, or experiences. Although most commonly seen in recruitment, this form of bias canimpact many aspects of your organization.

So, what is affinity bias and what are the causes and consequences? What strategies can you implement to reduce the risk of affinity bias in your business?

Read on to find out the answers to all these questions and more.

free trial

Affinity bias definition: What does it mean? 

Affinity bias is a form ofunconscious or implicit bias. Essentially, it occurs when someone favors and feels more comfortable with those who are seemingly alike in some way. This might as a result ofshared interests, backgrounds, cultures, hobbies, or personal experiences. This unconscious shared affinitycan affect judgements, decisions, and behaviors. It can also result inunconsciously rejecting those who act or look different.

Because affinity bias, also referred to assimilarity bias, works on an unconscious level,we are often not even aware of our biases or how they might affect others. Instead, we believe that the decisions we make relating to the people we gravitate to are logical and objective. We are blind to the fact thatwe are naturally drawn to those who remind us of ourselves

This can be a big problem in the workplace, especially in terms ofhiring and recruitment.Unconscious bias in the workplacecan lead to exclusion and seriously impact an organization’s ability to promotediversity, equity, and inclusion. It can also cause us to make assumptions about a person’s skills, abilities, and overall conduct and performance.

Difference between affinity bias and confirmation bias 

As we mentioned above, affinity bias is one of many difference types of bias. Another common type isconfirmation bias.

So, what’s the difference?

With affinity bias,we favor those who we feel are similar to us. We feel a natural connection as a result of one or many shared affinities. For example, if you meet someone at a party who studied at the same college or grew up in the same town as you, then you will feelinstantly connected through your shared experience

Confirmation bias, in contrast, is the tendency tosearch for, interpret, focus on, and remember information that aligns with our preconceived opinions. If we make a snap judgement about someone, whether based on conscious or unconscious affinity bias, we thenlook for information that supports and confirms our belief. We want to believe that our initial assessment was correct, so we try hard to find evidence to back it up. 

The danger here is that,by focusing so much on looking for evidence that confirms our affinity bias (or lack of), we ignore signs that might support a conflicting judgement. And this one-sided approach makes it impossible to be objective. That’s why it’s so important todevelop an awareness of our unconscious affinity and confirmation biases, both in the workplace and beyond. The more we understand how they influence us, the easier it will be to overcome our biases and make more objective judgements and decisions.

Causes of affinity bias 

To understand thetrue causes of affinity bias, we need to look back through our history as a species.

We have evolved this form of bias to help us makequick judgementswhen we meet someone. When we were hunter-gatherers, for example, we needed to be able toprocess information quickly when we met someone new to determine if they were a member of our tribe or if they posed a risk to our survival. So, we developed a psychological shortcut that helped us react quickly to unknown situations. 

Jumping forward to the present day, when we meet someone new,we still rely on these snap judgements to determine whether we feel comfortable. We form opinions based ongender, age, ethnicity, and class. We take in information relating tohow someone looks, how they speak, and how they present themselves. However, although this unconscious bias has helped us survive throughout our history as a species, these implicit biases also cause us to makefalse assumptions. And this can be dangerous.

As humans, we are alsoheavily influenced by our culture and environment. We make decisions based on thedirect and indirect experiences we have with members of other social groups. This includes our upbringing, our education, the media we are exposed to, and even the jokes we share with our peers. All these factors influence ourattitudes and beliefs

Ultimately, we feelsafe and comfortablewhen we are with those who are like us. We are more relaxed, and we find iteasier to communicate with people who share the same beliefs and values as us. It gives us a sense ofvalidationand it protects us fromconfrontation. But this isn’t necessarily a good thing. In fact, it can be very damaging.

Consequences of affinity bias 

So, why is affinity bias so damaging? What are the consequences?

For one thing, although seeking out people who share our values and interests can help us form better relationships, if we focus too much on similarities and differences, it can lead totunnel vision. Thisprevents us from accessing new perspectives and experiences. It can also lead to themarginalization and discriminationof certain individuals or groups of people.

Moreover, by only mixing with those who are like us, we end uprepeatedly reinforcing our opinions and cultural beliefs. As a result, we are unable to challenge ourselves and grow as individuals. We also becomeless empathetic and understanding of othersand, in extreme cases, begin tofear and avoid those we see as different

In terms of theworkplace, affinity bias can:

  • Severely impact your hiring processes.
  • Prevent you from nurturing a diverse, equitable, and inclusive working environment.
  • Influence your performance management initiatives.
  • Prevent certain groups or individuals from accessing opportunities for promotion or development.
  • Result in certain employees feeling unheard and undervalued.
  • Prevent us from considering all options and cause us to make bad business decisions.
  • Cause division and conflict in the workplace.
  • Curb creativity and innovation.

Affinity bias examples

Affinity bias cannegatively impact many aspects of your business. Let’s take a look at some of the examples we just saw in a bit more detail.

Affinity bias in recruitment 

Hiring and recruitment is themost common area of your business where you are likely to see affinity bias. After all, your hiring managers are only human so it’s only natural that they would fall back on unconscious attitudes and beliefs when they make hiring decisions. However, it’s vital that your hiring managers learn toidentify and address their unconscious biasesso that you can develop a fairer and more objective recruitment process. Otherwise, it can be very damaging to your business.

For example, if a hiring manager or interviewer is led by certain biases, then they are not objectively evaluating candidates.Instead of making hiring decisions based on a candidate’s skills, abilities, qualifications, and experience, they are relying on emotions and a “gut feeling”. They think someone is a good fit because they relate to them on a personal level. As a result, they are more likely to makebad hiring decisionsthat can be costly. They will probably alsopass up a lot of quality candidates

All this will impactturnover, retention, and overall productivity. It will also impact yourculture and environmentif everyone has the same ideas, beliefs, and perspectives. Your organization will beless diverse, less innovative, and less creative. Ultimately, affinity-based hiring is far more likely to lead to atoxic, non-inclusive, discriminatory workplacewhere nobody wants to work.

Performance reviews 

Performance reviews are an integral function of the HR department. They help you gain insight, and they provide employees with valuable feedback that can help them reach their performance objectives. However, employee performance management is not without its challenges. One of these challenges is knowing how to detect and address affinity bias in performance reviews. 

So,how can affinity bias impact your performance management processes?

Bias in performance reviewscanfalsely inflate or deflate your performance metrics, giving you a false reading of the performance levels of your company. A biased review also makes itharder to judge how well an employee is actually doing. This can result inemployee frustration and demotivationif an individual feels they have been held back unfairly from a promotion.

If a manager is influenced by affinity bias, they might rate an employee as a high performer just because they share an affinity with them. Or they might judge someone unfavorably just because they don’t feel a connection with them.Instead of objectively evaluating an employee’s progress, skills, and areas for improvement, they form conclusions based on preconceived opinions. As a result,employees aren’t provided with constructive feedback that can help them develop. And this can impact the overall productivity of the organization.

Employees feeling undervalued 

If there is an issue with affinity bias in the workplace, certain employees can begin to feelunheard and undervalued. If leaders only praise and reward employees who they feel an affinity with or who display traits that they admire, then other employees will probably feeloverlooked. This affinity-based divide cancause tension between employeesand have a negative impact onemployee morale, engagement, and productivity.

Leaders dismissing new, different ideas

Managers who are at risk of affinity bias areless likely to listen to the ideas and opinions of those who they don’t identify with. Instead, they look to those with similar opinions to confirm their own beliefs. This can seriouslylimit a company’s ability to access fresh, new perspectives that challenge the status quo and help the organization grow and develop.

Employees held back from promotions

Finally, affinity bias can negatively impact the promotion process asmanagers are more likely to promote those that they relate to more. If a manager sees themself in one of their team members, they will instinctively want to help them nurture their potential. Whilst this isn’t a bad thing in itself, it can impact the workplace in general ifpromising employees are repeatedly overlooked because they don’t fit the mold.  

For example, according to a 2019 study of “Women in the Workplace”,for every 100 men promoted to a managerial position, only 72 women were given the same opportunity to advance. This is likely because men were making most of these hiring decisions. If left unaddressed,affinity bias could continue to prevent women from climbing the ladder and overcominggender biasin the workplace.

How to overcome affinity bias: Step-by-step 

Affinity bias is anunconscious social biasthat we have developed over our history as a species. It affects everyone to some degree and can be very difficult to identify, and even harder to eliminate. However, there are a number of things that you can do toovercome affinity bias in the workplace

The following best practices will help youeducate your workforce and create fairer and more objective internal processes. By following these strategies, your employees will learn to recognize their own biases. And this is the first step towards developing a morediverse and inclusive working environment

Recognize affinity bias in the workplace 

The first step towards true inclusion isrecognizing what affinity bias is and why it can be a problem. You and your team need to understandhow it affects judgements and the way we treat others. The more everyone in your organization understands what it is, the easier it will be for them to bemindful of unconscious biases.

Encourage your managers torecognize and challenge their own unconscious affinity biases. When they find themself naturally gravitating to someone, they should stop for a moment to think why. Remind them of the importance oflistening to the ideas and suggestions of everyone on their team without prejudice. Proactively avoiding these natural biases will train them torely less on unconscious stereotypes and more on objective decisions.

Invest in affinity bias training

With so many hiring managers these days searching for shared organizational values when they evaluate candidates, the risk of affinity bias is rising. That’s why it’s so important totrain your hiring managers so that they understand how to find the right balance between seeking a cultural fit and avoiding affinity bias.

Offer your hiring managersaffinity bias trainingto help them bemore conscious of and accountable for their decisions. It’s also a good idea toexpand this training initiative to your departmental managers. This will help all your leaders identify their own affinity biases so that they can work on correcting them.

Create an anonymous hiring process

Look at other ways that you canmake your hiring process more objective and less susceptible to affinity bias

For example, do you have adiverse hiring team? Do your hiring managers and interviewers come from a range of different backgrounds? Do they have different values, experiences, and perspectives?

Randomizationis another great way to create a moreanonymous hiring process. For instance, you coulduse blind hiring software to anonymize candidate profiles and restrict access to demographic data. Or you coulduse applicant tracking software to automatically match qualified candidates to open positions. All this will help your HR team make hiring decisions based on skills and experience rather than shared affinities.

Enhance your performance review processes 

Performance reviews can be a great opportunity for your managers to reflect on their own biases. Encourage them to bemore mindful and conscious of their own assumptions, stereotypes, and affinity biases. This will help your performance appraisals become less subjective so that feedback is more fact-based and constructive.

Another great way to reduce affinity bias in performance reviews is tofocus on performance metrics as much as possible. You also need to make sure youset clear performance goals so that progress is easy to measure. Tools like Factorial’s 360 performance review template and 9-box grid can help you create a moreskills-based evaluation model. Also, make sure each step of your performance management cycle isclearly documented. This will help your managers obtain a clear and objective picture of an employee’s overall performance.

Finally, the best way to reduce affinity bias in your performance reviews is to focus on creatinga culture of trust. Encourage your managers todevelop better relationships with their teamsand promote an environment ofpositive performance management and diversity. Reward your top performers andoffer training and support to any underperformers. This will help you create a culture where employees experience fairness and equity throughout the entire performance management cycle.

diversity metrics ebook

Collect regular employee feedback 

Make sure you collect regular feedback from your employees so thatall team members feel heard and valued. Collecting these insights can also help youidentify areas of your business that might be impacted by affinity bias. Your managers can find out more about how their leadership style might be impacting their teams and whether they display any affinity biases that they might not be aware of.

Once you collect feedback, listen to it. If you uncover any blind spots, address them. Make sure your employees understand that youvalue their suggestions and that you want tocreate a culture and environment based on equity, not bias.

Promote diversity, equity, and inclusion

Finally, the best way to overcome affinity bias in the workplace is to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

If you haven’t already,design and implement DEI initiatives that help you create a culture of belonging where everyone feels heard and valued. For example, you could launchemployee resource groups, focus on promotingmore inclusive hiring, and implement initiatives to help builddiverse leadership. Nurturing a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion in this way can be a great way toreduce recruiting bias and create a safe space for your employees to develop their professional skills. Take a look at this post ondiversity and inclusion best practicesfor more inspiration.

It’s also important totrack yourdiversity metricson a regular basisto assess the impact that your DEI initiatives are having on your workplace culture.DEI technologysuch as Factorial’s HRIS enables you to access all your DEI metrics through acentralized DEI dashboard. This data is displayed in a range of visual formats, including graphs and charts. This makes it easier to understand where you are in terms of your DEI benchmarks so that you cancontinuously improve your diversity efforts, increase inclusivity, and reduce the risk of bias and discrimination in the workplace.

Ultimately, although we can’t fully control our unconscious biases, we can work to identify and correct them. The more we, as organizations, are able tomanage and overcome affinity bias, the easier it will be to build a morediverse, equitable, inclusive, and productive working environment.

Cat Symonds is a freelance writer, editor, and translator. Originally from Wales, she studied Spanish and French at the University of Swansea before moving to Barcelona where she lived and worked for 12 years. She has since relocated back to Wales where she continues to build her business, working with clients in Spain and the UK.  Cat is the founder of The Content CAT: Content And Translation, providing content development and translation services to her clients. She specializes in corporate blogs, articles of interest, ghostwriting, and translation (SP/FR/CA into EN), collaborating with a range of companies from a variety of business sectors. She also offers services to a number of NGOs including Oxfam Intermón, UNICEF, and Corporate Excellence - Centre for Reputation Leadership.  For more information or to contact Cat visit her website ( or send her a message through LinkedIn.

Related posts