Ingroup vs. Outgroup Unconscious Bias

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Unconscious bias can play a substantial role in triggering microaggressions in the workplace, and it is often based on ingroup and outgroup status. This lesson discusses unconscious bias and ingroups and outgroups on the job.

Understanding Ingroups and Outgroups

Many of us are interested in making our workplaces more inclusive environments, places where everyone feels welcome and valued. But how does this happen?

Start by reflecting on a time when you have felt excluded at work, or you were the victim of a microaggression, a subtle act of discrimination that left you feeling small.

Chances are, the experience you are thinking of has something to do with ingroups and outgroups. Ingroups are people who you identify as being part of. Outgroups are comprised of people who you do not identify as being a part of.

Ingroups and outgroups are often formed based on unconscious bias, or preconceived notions we have about others without being aware of it. What might be some of your own unconscious biases? How have you been affected by the biases of others?

Being left out of an ingroup can be a kind of microaggression.

Race, Immigration Status, and Language

Many of us have bias having to do with race, immigration status, and language, and ingroups and outgroups often form around these categories. For instance, because of institutionalized racism, a kind of racism that is deeply embedded in many institutions and subcultures, white people in many workplaces hold more power than people of color. They might be unconsciously biased to think that African-American people are not as smart as they are, for example, and to believe that this is the reason the workplace is mostly white.

This can lead to people of color feeling marginalized as part of an outgroup. Similarly, ingroups can form based on immigration status and the assumption that people who are from other countries have been educated in inferior ways or do not speak or write English well.

Sometimes, a workplace ingroup might even assume that those who are immigrants are always undocumented or that those who are undocumented are bad people. This can lead these immigrants to be excluded from important workplace endeavors.

Age, Veteran Status and Ability

Age is another big category around which ingroups and outgroups often form. Many young employees are biased against older workers and think they are out of step with the times. Conversely, some older employees might hold the bias that younger people do not understand the world as well as they do. Either of these biased orientations can lead to the construction of ingroups and outgroups.

Some workplaces where there are a lot of veterans might also develop a tendency to form ingroups and outgroups around veteran status. Veterans may be lauded and may consider themselves braver than and superior to those who are not veterans, or others might assume they are reactive and traumatized.

Health, ability, and disability can also be factors that lead to ingroup and outgroup creation. Often, people with disabilities feel excluded because certain places may be inaccessible to them or because a workplace might articulate an implicit assumption that they are lesser because of their ability status. For example, although employers cannot legally discriminate against people with learning disabilities, they might make speedy reading a requirement for participation in an exciting project. People with dyslexia might, in this case, experience themselves as part of an outgroup at work.

Ingroups tend to be biased against people who deviate from the workplace norm, making people with disabilities experience an outsider status.

Women who are pregnant might feel excluded from ingroups because of their physical status; conversely, those struggling with infertility might experience exclusion because of their health status and life circumstances.

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