Recent protests over police brutality and the death of George Floyd and countless other such incidents have reignited discussions about race and inequality in the US and around the world. Many companies are pledging to do their part in the fight against racism by increasing diversity and inclusion in their workforce and reducing implicit bias.

However, companies have a lot of work to do, as current levels of diversity and inclusion, especially at the executive level, are abysmal for most firms. According to McKinsey and Company, even though Caucasians only make up 64% of entry-level workers, they make up 85% of employees in executive positions, while Hispanic and Black employees only account for 3% and 2% of executives respectively. For every 100 men who receive their first promotion from entry-level to manager, 79 women receive that same promotion and only 60 Black women receive that same promotion.  

It’s a must for all members of your organization to be fully educated on implicit bias, diversity, and inclusion. This article will do exactly that as well as highlight the benefits of diversity and inclusion and the problem areas businesses are facing in creating a diverse and inclusive workplace. 

What is Implicit Bias?

Implicit bias, also called unconscious bias, refers to the attitudes and stereotypes that unconsciously affect our behaviors and decisions. Implicit biases cause both favorable or unfavorable attitudes toward people based on their race, gender, ethnicity, age, appearance, or other characteristics. We develop these biases through direct and indirect messages from early life experiences and media and news programming.

Important Characteristics of Implicit Biases:

  • Everybody has them
  • They don’t necessarily align with an individual’s declared beliefs
  • May generally favor our own ingroup
  • They can be unlearned

Diversity vs. Inclusion

Diversity in the workplace means having employees and executives with different races, genders, ethnicities, sexual orientations, ages, backgrounds, and other characteristics that we’re born with. Inclusion, on the other hand, is making sure everybody’s voice is heard, granting equal opportunities for advancement, and creating an open and welcoming work culture. You can think of diversity as the who and the what and inclusion as the how.

  • Who’s being recruited?
  • Who’s being promoted? 
  • How are we amplifying everybody’s voice?

For instance, Company A has employees from different races, Company A has racial diversity. But if Company A has an appearance policy that prohibits certain hairstyles, the company is not inclusive because this policy will likely hurt Black employees far more than others. A successful company needs both diversity and inclusion to succeed. Even the most diverse companies are struggling to create inclusive work environments, as one survey found that 61% of employees don’t think their companies’ inclusion is up to scratch yet. 

How do Diversity and Inclusion Boost Performance and Innovation?

Numerous studies have shown that diversity and inclusion increase the return on investment and innovation. 

McKinsey and Company analyzed over 1000 large companies in 15 different countries over 5 years. In their 2019 report they found that companies with leadership teams of 30 percent or more women were 18 percent more likely to financially outperform those with 10-30 percent women on their leadership teams, and 43% more likely to outperform those with less than 10% women on their leadership teams. The companies with the most ethnically and culturally diverse leadership teams were 35% more likely to outperform those with the least ethnic and cultural diversity. And in the US, revenue increased by almost 1% for every 10 percent increase in racial and ethnic diversity among leadership. 

A 2017 study from BCG found that diversity in executive teams improved not just profits but also innovation. Innovation revenue was 19 percent greater for companies with above-average diversity scores than below-average scores. Furthermore, they discovered that some types of diversity matter are a lot more than others. Diversity in national origin, industry background, gender, and career path mattered a lot, while age and educational focus were not nearly as important. 

How Does Implicit Bias Affect Diversity and Inclusion?

Implicit bias exists in nearly every part of the workplace from hiring to promotions and evaluations to day-to-day operations, and it’s making your workplace less diverse and less inclusive. 

Implicit Bias in Hiring

In a 2003 MIT study, researchers sent out 5,000 resumes responding to job ads in Chicago and Boston and randomly assigned stereotypically white-sounding names to some resumes and stereotypically Black-sounding names to the other ones. They discovered that employers were 50% more likely to give interviews to applicants with white-sounding resumes.

One strategy to prevent implicit bias is using blind resumes or blocking out the name of the applicant in each resume. Researchers in a 2000 study investigated whether blind auditions helped eliminate implicit bias in orchestra auditions, as orchestras were male-dominated for much of their history. They found that women were 50% more likely to advance past initial rounds if they performed in a blind audition. The same principle applies to blind resumes.  

Implicit Bias in Hiring

Implicit Bias in Promotions and Evaluations

Implicit bias is a big culprit for people of color and women being severely underrepresented at the executive level. A 2019 McKinsey report found that women’s biggest obstacle is in being promoted from entry-level to manager. In fact, McKinsey researchers noted that men held 62% of managerial positions and women held 38% in the companies they surveyed. Because so many women are overlooked in just their first promotion, they never advanced into higher tiers of company leadership, causing even more underrepresentation at these upper tiers than at the managerial level. 

Implicit Bias in Day to Day Operations

Women report doing 20% more menial or undervalued tasks, such as cleaning up after a meeting, doing administrative chores, or mentoring summer interns, than their white male counterparts with the same job titles. The consulting company GapJumpers analyzed a tech firm and found that women were 42% more likely to be assigned to low-impact projects than men, making it harder for qualified women to be promoted. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to be assigned to leadership roles or other important projects that lead to networking opportunities, high praise, and promotion opportunities.

Implicit bias has a huge impact on meetings, as men tend to dominate conversations more often than women. Men with expertise are more likely to be influential in meetings but women with expertise are less likely to be influential. Meetings are even worse for women when the majority of employees present are male. One study found that women speak 25% less often than men when this happens. Women are also far more likely to be interrupted in meetings than men. 

Double standards and stereotypes may prevent employees from speaking freely. Oftentimes, white men are praised for speaking “passionately”, while women are criticized for being “aggressive” or “emotional” and Black people are seen as “angry” for speaking the same tone and energy as a white male employee. 

Symptoms of a Lack of Inclusion in the Workplace


According to Dr. Kevin Nadal, an expert on microaggressions, microaggressions are “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative slights and insults toward members of oppressed groups.” Microaggressions make people feel like they don’t belong and can create a hostile, non-inclusive workplace environment. Unlike people who overtly discriminate, people who commit microaggressions might not even know they have insulted someone. 

Examples of common microaggressions in the workplace include telling a Black person that they are “so articulate”, mixing up the name of an employee of color with another employee of color, or telling a female worker that she’s being “too sensitive”.

If you want to know why these examples are harmful, see more examples of microaggressions, learn what to do if you commit a microaggression, or learn how to respond to microaggressions, check out our other article.


When linguists first coined the term code-switching, they used it to describe switching back and forth between different languages or dialects. Today, code-switching goes beyond just language. Code-switching means changing your style of speech, appearance, behavior, or style of expression

Advantages of Code Switching

People have affinity bias, which means they like people that act, talk, or share similar interests as them. Black employees and other minorities code-switch to play into that affinity bias, which then increases their chances of advancing in the company and makes them feel more included in the company culture. The same phenomenon applies to foreign employees who downplay their accents to seem more “American” and open doors to new opportunities in the workplace. The more that employees from underrepresented groups talk, look or behave like those in power at the company, the more likely they’ll be able to thrive and advance. 

Code-switching is most documented among Black employees. Many Black employees feel that they need to go out of their way to not be perceived by coworkers as stereotypically Black. For example, Black employees might work longer hours so that others at their companies don’t see them as lazy. 

Benefits of Code-Switching in the Workplace

  • Makes co-workers of dominant groups feel more comfortable 
  • Increases perceptions of professionalism
  • Increases chances of getting hired
  • Helps Black employees be seen as leaders by avoiding negative stereotypes
  • Increases chances of being promoted

In a study published in the Harvard Business Review by McCluney et al, Black employees who didn’t code-switch, such as continuing to speak in the African-American vernacular or not straightening their hair were criticized by whites and seen as less professional and intellectual. 

Disadvantages of Code-Switching

People who code-switch at work have unhealthy levels of vigilance, which causes burnout. They are constantly preparing for and trying to reduce the likelihood of potential discrimination and mistreatment. People who code-switch, especially at companies lacking in diversity, have the burden of representing their entire race and ensuring that no negative stereotypes get associated with them or their race. A 23-year old Black female program manager in McCluney et al’s study said “I go out of my way to make sure I don’t appear lazy because I know the stereotypes. People talk, and if you look a certain way, you really have to work twice as hard”. People who code-switch get burnt out from pretending to be a different person.

Employees who code-switch often face hostility from coworkers of the same race for downplaying their race and can be accused of “acting white”.

Code-switching is a complex phenomenon and it will exist to some degree in even diverse and inclusive workplaces. But organizations still need to show their employees that they are allowed to be their authentic selves.

How to Be an Inclusive Leader

If you made it all the way down to this part of the article, you know that diversity alone isn’t enough. Companies need inclusivity to harness the power of diversity, or else diversity is meaningless. Now the first step to foster inclusion in the workplace is hiring inclusive leaders. Inclusive leaders empower employees to shine and boost productivity. According to the Harvard Business Review, “teams with inclusive leaders are 17% more likely to report that they are high performing, 20% more likely to say they make high-quality decisions, and 29% more likely to report behaving collaboratively”. Harvard Business Review also found that a 10% increase in perceptions of inclusion improves work attendance by almost 1 day a year per employee.

After surveying around 1500 employees, Harvard Business Review identified these characteristics leaders need to cultivate inclusion. 

Visible Commitment 

Leaders need to show that they prioritize diversity and inclusion and are willing to hold others accountable. 


They admit their mistakes and create space for others to share their opinions. 

Awareness of Bias

They are aware of their own unconscious biases and systemic biases.

Curiosity about Others

They lead with empathy and an open mindset, listen without judgment, and genuinely care about others’ lives. They acknowledge team members as individuals and know everybody’s name and role. 

Cultural Intelligence

They are aware of others’ cultures and learn about cultural differences.

Effective Collaboration

They pay attention to team cohesion and empower others. 

Although it is the right thing to do, executives also understand that there are many productivity-related benefits of a diverse workforce. Understand that it’s a part of improving the employee experience and let’s make our workplaces inclusive, diverse, and bias-free.