Some may expect that discriminatory behavior is always due to conscious prejudice. According to an article in the California Law Review, however, conscious workplace discrimination may not be as common as some believe.
The authors of the article assert that much discrimination is the result of implicit--rather than explicit--biases. Implicit bias describes an unconscious formation of judgments which are based on social perceptions and impressions. These unconscious judgments may then inform these people's motivations and actions. Explicit bias, on the other hand, describes conscious and deliberate thoughts or actions.
The discriminatory behaviors which may arise from implicit versus explicit biases are quite different. Hiring managers suffering from implicit bias against African Americans may subconsciously conduct shorter, terser interviews with people of this race. On the other hand, a hiring manager with explicit bias against this racial group may outright refuse to hire any African Americans.
One common test used to gauge racial biases is the Race Implicit Association Test. In the Race IAT, subjects are provided with a series of either African American or European American faces. Subjects must press one key when they see an African American face or hear a pleasant word. Subjects must press another key if they see European Americans or hear unpleasant words. For those biased against African Americans, associating these faces with pleasant words was awkward, so it took them longer to press the first key. Based on extensive Race IATs, implicit bias against African Americans is pervasive.
Studies also show that implicit bias does produce racial and gender discrimination. Addressing implicit bias, then, may be necessary in order to combat discriminatory behaviors in the workplace.