Addressing Implicit Bias in the Social-Impact Sector

Addressing Implicit Bias in the Social-Impact Sector was originally published on Idealist Careers.

The potential to work on programs that promote equity and social justice is what draws many of us to the social-impact field. But biases based on race, gender, and other factors are still a real problem in the nonprofit sector—and are often present in the form of implicit bias.

What is implicit bias, and how does it manifest in the workplace?

Implicit bias refers to unconscious bias—unintentional stereotypes, assumptions, or generalizations that influence our actions and judgment. Like explicit bias, implicit bias can be favorable or unfavorable. In the workplace, implicit bias can affect hiring, decision making, and interactions with coworkers. The following scenarios all demonstrate implicit bias:

  • A hiring manager has an “affinity bias,” unknowingly selecting candidates with a background similar to his own, and rejecting other candidates based on lack of “culture fit.”
  • A working mom is perceived by coworkers as being less devoted to work and taking more time off for family reasons, when in fact she takes the same amount of time off as other employees.
  • As Asian-American employee is consistently given a larger workload than his coworkers.
  • An African-American manager is repeatedly passed over for promotion to a senior leadership role, in spite of their qualifications and great performance reviews.

Is implicit bias a problem in the social-impact space?

Because implicit biases are unconscious, they may be in direct opposition to what we say we believe. Most social-impact professionals undoubtedly believe they are working against racism and sexism, but the fact remains that:

Clearly, implicit bias affects not only interpersonal relationships, but also the diversity of an organization’s leadership and the actual outcomes of grantmaking and social impact projects. Each decision informed by implicit biases can have a far-reaching impact within organizations and the communities they serve.

What can individuals and organizations do to counter implicit bias?

There are concrete steps that can be taken to counter implicit bias, but first the problem has to be recognized. Organizations can work to:

  • Require implicit bias training for all levels of staff and leadership to identify and better understand the impact of implicit bias.
  • Ensure that candidates’ names are hidden in resume reviews, preventing bias based on perceived race or gender.
  • Encourage hiring managers to look for candidates outside of their own networks, which are often homogenous.
  • Hold leadership accountable for retaining and promoting people of color.
  • Include underrepresented groups in decision making when it comes to funding and philanthropic giving.
  • Collect data and continuously monitor outcomes to ensure that hiring, promotion, or funding diversity goals are being met.

If you’re interested in uncovering your own hidden biases, Project Implicit offers online “Implicit Association Tests” that provide an interesting insight into your own beliefs and stereotypes.


Have you ever experienced implicit bias in the workplace? What did you do to address it? Share your thoughts with us.