Implicit Bias in the Workplace



In the mid-1990s, research in the area of social behavior led to the argument that there is a distinct relationship between the way people behave and unconscious associations and judgments driven by their thinking in a certain way. This resulted in the coining of the term “implicit bias” (Banaji and Greenwald, 1995).


Implicit bias refers to attitudes or stereotypes that adversely impact or influence our understanding, actions and decisions in an unconscious way, rendering them uncontrollable if unchecked and unmitigated. It is also defined by Vanderbilt University as “prejudice or unsupported judgments in favor of or against one thing, person, or group as compared to another, in a way that is usually considered unfair.”

It has been suggested that implicit bias is an automatic “System 1” thinking based response (Stanovich and West, 2000) whereby the brain is engaged in a fast, emotional, unconscious thinking mode, requiring little effort and is often error prone, based on immediate and premature conclusions being drawn in the absence of sufficient reasoning.


In addition to biases that relate to race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability, others that may be less obvious include:

  • Place of birth compared to where a person may be residing currently
  • Work experience gained outside the country where a person is currently residing
  • Academic and professional credentials gained outside a country where a person is currently residing.

According to the website of JVS Toronto, a nonprofit organization with a vision that every individual has opportunities for employment, the lack of Canadian experience is the most commonly identified barrier identified by newcomers as they pursue meaningful work in their new country. Many report that they continue to face this challenge even after two or more years of living in Canada.

In the 2018 State of Immigrant Inclusion report published by the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council (TRIEC), a key recommendation was for employers to make the “Canadian work experience” requirement a thing of the past in relation to immigrant professionals seeking to enter the labor market.

Other examples of implicit biases, as identified by, include:

NameHair colorHeightWeight
Physical appearance ContrastAttributionAffinity


In the 90’s social psychologist Tony Greenwald, in conjunction with the Universities of Harvard, Virginia and Washington, developed the Implicit Association Test (IAT). The test is publicly available online and can be accessed for free for individuals interested in identifying and measuring their hidden biases.

Research has shown that types of implicit bias that may emerge during the candidate recruitment and selection process include name, age, beauty, physical appearance, hair color, birthplace, credentials gained outside the recruiting country, height, and weight. As such, there are several tools and techniques that employers can apply to ensure fairness in the hiring process.

Recruiters can use “blind resumes,” removing candidate names, locations of educational establishments and career history locations. Some employers have stated that in adopting these practices, hiring managers are more likely to focus on the candidate’s core skills and competencies, in determining a fit for the role requirements and the job description.

Employers can also deploy focus groups from employment equity seeking firms to evaluate the underlying artificial intelligence assumptions used in developing candidate search algorithms in online job application and tracking systems.

Using diverse interview panels as ‘bias disruptors’ can introduce diversity of thought and perspectives around potential new hires to reduce affinity bias (hiring in one’s own image).

Recruiters are also encouraged to use diverse talent pools outside the organization’s conventional sources. Examples would be partnering with occupation-specific and multi-occupation professional affinity groups. Case studies have shown that these groups help to reduce any potential limitations in the use of automated online job application and keyword tracking systems. Examples include:

  • Black Female Accountants Network (BFAN)
  • Black Female Lawyers Network (BFLN).
  • National Association of Black Accountants (NABA)
  • Pan-Asian Leaders Canada (ASCEND)
  • National Council of Philippine Canadian American Accountants (NCPACA)
  • Association of Latino Professionals in Finance and Accounting (ALPFA)
  • National Society of Black CPAs (NSBCPA)

Talent acquisition programs, such as the TRIEC Professional Immigrant Networks (PINs) program. PINs is a network of professional associations and partner organizations, who support the development of immigrant professionals in their careers in Canada. Associations in the network are led by immigrants and serve a wide range of professions and communities.

To conclude: the first step in addressing implicit bias is for an individual to first gain an understanding and awareness of their own biases. Tools to support this process include the Implicit Association Test. Developed in conjunction with Harvard University mentioned above. Having identified the various types of implicit bias (the above list is by no means exhaustive), we turn to ways of mitigating implicit bias in the workplace by reviewing existing systems and processes around application, recruitment systems and processes. This would include detecting any non-inclusive hiring practices such as the type of questions asked at interview and candidate resume details.

For more diversity, equity and inclusion resources, visit the AFP DEI Resources page here.

Jenny Okonkwo is the President of Transform Consulting and Founder of Black Female Accountants Network, a volunteer led professional women’s network with membership across Canada, the UK, the US, and Europe. Jenny is a Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Advocate and following a successful career in Corporate FP&A and Consulting, her most recent role was in the nonprofit sector, establishing partnerships with employers to develop and foster diverse and immigrant inclusive workplaces. She has been formally recognized by the Canadian government for her contributions to the youth and professional community and was a 2020 WXN Top 100 Award Nominee, which celebrates Canada’s 100 most powerful women in business.

Okonkwo is an author and regularly speaks at conferences and events hosted by Chartered Professional Accountants of Ontario. She was the keynote speaker at the 2020 AICPA-CIMA Women’s Global Leadership Summit, having previously been invited to speak and act as Conference Chair for Day 2 of the 2019 event.


    • Social Psychology / implicit Bias, C Ruhl, July 1, 2020
    • Vanderbilt University website: bias
    • JVS Toronto, “How do I deal with the lack of Canadian work experience during a job interview?” October 15, 2018
    • 2018 State of Immigrant Inclusion report, Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council, November 2018
    • Symonds Research, 
    • Implicit Association Test, Project Implicit 
    • Teaching Tolerance,
    • How the Best Bosses Interrupt Bias on Their Teams, Joan C. Williams and Sky Mihaylo, Harvard Business Review Nov-Dec2019 Issue from the November–December 2019 Issue
    • Catalyst: What is Unconscious Bias? New York: Catalyst, December 11, 2014
    • Royal Bank of Canada ‘Our Commitments to Inclusion’,
    • TD Bank: Diversity and Inclusion,
    • Deloitte Insights: Mitigating bias in performance management, N.Nangia and K.Enderes, 22 June, 2020