Evaluating Staff and Colleagues with a DEI Lens

How to mitigate the most common forms of evaluator biases

This is intended to serve as a "cheat sheet" on some biases that show up when evaluating staff and colleagues as well as to provide a few tips on how you can mitigate them. Whether it’s a 90-Day, Mid-Year, 360 or End-of-Year, reviews are a critical time for every staff member to mindfully and honestly reflect on how our own preferences and biases show up in how we evaluate others.

Evaluator bias – which can be positive or negative – is an inaccurate and unfair way to assess (consciously or unconsciously) an employee’s performance. With negative evaluator bias, the evaluator’s review may put the employee at a disadvantage, resulting in penalties that impact them personally. Conversely, when positive bias is at play, the evaluator may take shortcuts and tilt the bias favorably toward individuals they perceive to be more like themselves.

When one person’s unconscious bias is applied to evaluations, it can lead to inaccuracy, favoritism and even unfair treatment of employees, based on their age, sex, race, gender identity, etc. We must then work to mitigate the effects of unconscious bias during the evaluation process.

Types of Evaluator Bias

Availability Bias

When our evaluation of an individual is influenced by what we remember most easily or is visible to us, including our proximity to someone. A subset form of Availability Bias is Recency Bias, where evaluators use recent behaviors or performance to make evaluation and rating determinations rather than the overall behaviors and performance.

Affinity Bias

When we more positively evaluate those who are like us and share one or more of our worldviews. We may unconsciously feel more familiar with or positive about their performance and competence, which works against those who are different from us. A subset form of Affinity bias is Hired or Inherited Bias, where our involvement in the hiring decision may create a connection with that person and become a source of affinity.

Implicit Stereotyping

When we rate someone differently based on preconceived expectations about the group or groups they belong to. This may result in unconsciously setting a higher standard for people who belong to particular groups, requiring them to prove themselves more often or demonstrate greater achievements because they don’t fit “the norm”.

“Halo & Horn” Bias

When a positive first impression (or word-of-mouth opinion) causes us to ignore negative or neutral aspects of a team member’s performance, or conversely, a negative first impression causes us to overlook important positive aspects of performance. Allowing one aspect of an individual’s performance to overly influence unrelated areas of that person’s performance is another example.

Confirmation Bias

When we unconsciously filter evidence to support already held points of view and ignore or overlook evidence that disproves them.

Behavior Tips for Managing Biases & Evaluating Inclusively

You are encouraged to review and RE-review this list of inclusive behavior tips before completing evaluations. When evaluating a staff member or colleague:

  1. Ensure expected/evaluated performance is clearly defined, and that you’re not holding this person to an unspoken expectation that is your norm.
  2. Be aware of your own cultural filters and expectations of performance. Are you inadvertently giving more favorable feedback to individuals that share your background, experiences, or work styles? Understand that how people approach their work varies based on their influences, experiences, and how they were taught. They may actually be succeeding at the goal, but just in a different way than you anticipated or would have done it yourself.
  3. Consider culturally-influenced and learned approaches that are different from the dominant organizational “norm,” and ask yourself if you can you stretch your comfort zone and find value.
  4. Monitor performance equitably across backgrounds. For example: Are you inadvertently micromanaging some groups but not others? Are you unconsciously lending an extra helping hand to some more often than to others who are “easier” for you to manage? Are you granting the benefit of the doubt equally when mistakes are inevitably made?

    As a reminder, we all have unconscious biases – it is human nature, and no one is immune from it. Evaluating with a DEI is not ignoring your biases, but rather it's recognizing and acknowledging them so that you can identify the right tools to help you get ahead of them.