The cycle of workplace bias and how to interrupt it

Nicole M. Stephens*, Lauren A. Rivera, Sarah S.M. Townsend

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


A rich body of research throughout the social sciences demonstrates that bias—people's tendency to display group-based preferences—is a major obstacle in the way of promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. The current article moves beyond the single-level focus of prior theories of workplace bias to propose a novel theoretical model that conceptualizes workplace bias as a multilevel cycle. First, we discuss the theoretical foundations of our bias cycle theory and describe why understanding the nature of workplace bias—and effectively reducing it—requires considering the reciprocal influences of both individual and organizational levels of the cycle. Specifically, we describe how workplace bias operates as a cycle and then propose that successfully reducing workplace bias requires multilevel interventions that interrupt bias across both the individual and organizational levels of the cycle. Second, because workplace bias is reproduced through both of these levels, we review and bring together literatures that are often considered separately: psychology research on reducing bias at the individual level and sociology and management research on reducing bias at the organizational level. Third, we use our bias cycle theory to formulate general principles for determining how to begin and how to pair interventions across levels. Finally, we conclude by discussing our theoretical contributions and outlining directions for future research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100137
JournalResearch in Organizational Behavior
StatePublished - Jan 2020


  • Bias
  • Bias reduction
  • Diversity
  • Equity
  • Gender
  • Inclusion
  • Inequality
  • Interventions
  • Organizations
  • Race
  • Workplace evaluations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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