Initial Publication Date: February 19, 2018

Behaviors that Impact Department/Workplace Climate

Day to day interactions in the workforce can have a profound effect on workplace "climate" whether intentional or not. The first step is to be aware of what behaviors can have accumulative negative impacts (see Microaggressions, and Implicit Bias) and strategies that can be used to Empower Bystanders to step up and support co-workers who may be victims or targets of hurtful behaviors.


Microaggressions are the casual degradation of any marginalized group (Wikipedia). Whether intentional or not, the impacts are real, cumulative, and can lead to ..."diminished self confidence and contributes to a poor self-image and potentially lead to mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and trauma."

Bias in Professional Relations

In The Discourse on the Method (1637), Rene Descartes describes his rational approach to understanding the physical universe free from preconceived ideas: "First, never accept anything as true that I did not know evidently to be so; that is, carefully to avoid precipitous judgement and prejudice; and to include nothing more in my judgments that what presented itself to my mind with such clarity and distinctness that I would have no occasion to doubt it." Cartesian skepticism, free from precipitous judgment and prejudice is equally as important in establishing professional relations in the workplace, lab, field, and professional gatherings. It is important to recognize many types of interpersonal bias that may enter the workplace, as these may ultimately have negative impacts on the progress of Science, and of the scientists themselves.

Strategies for reducing bias include:

  • Being cognizant of the effects and impacts of potential bias
  • Apply structure to reviews (e.g., job applications, performance reviews) so that the same criteria apply to all
  • Question yourself--your motives, perceptions, personal frame of reference.

Cooperdock et al. (2021) provide practical advice on Counteracting Systemic Bias in the Lab, Field, and Classroom, with seven major suggestions summarized by Dunscombe in EOS (12 March 2021): Seven Ways PIs Can Counteract Systematic Bias Right Now:

  1. Normalize talking about diversity, equity, and inclusion in scientific settings.
  2. Write fair and balanced reference letters.
  3. Design your class field trips to be universally accessible.
  4. Write safety plans for the field.
  5. Partner with local communities
  6. Feature scientists from many backgrounds in the classroom.
  7. Most important of all: You're a leader. Just do something.

The "Confronting Prejudiced Responses (CPR) Model" recommends these steps in recognizing and responding to bias:

  • understanding the context of the situation,
  • assessing the the urgency of the problem,
  • determining who is impacted,
  • considering what can be done (and alternatives),
  • considering what the consequences, are, and
  • making a decision to act,

Refer also to this presentation on Confronting Prejudiced Responses model by Dr. Stephanie Goodman, Director of Faculty Development and Leadership, Wright State University

Implicit Bias

Implicit bias refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions that are activated involuntarily without an individual's awareness or intentional control (American Women in Science). Implicit bias refers to attitudes and stereotypes that affect perception and judgment without our being aware of it.

Halo Effect

The "Halo Effect" is a cognitive bias where the overall impressions of an individual affect how we perceive other attributes of their character. For example, someone who appears to be physically attractive might also be considered to be a good leader, smart, funny, well-liked, etc.

  • What is the Halo Effect by Kendra Cherry (April 7, 2017) describes the Halo Effect and why it matters in your professional life.
  • See also the definition of the Halo Effect from Psychology.

Anchoring Bias

"Psychological anchoring is a term used to describe the human tendency to rely too heavily on one trait (and often the first piece of information) when making decisions" (The Affects of Anchoring Bias on Human Behavior, Thought Hub May 23, 2016). Further examples of anchoring bias, and how to avoid this are found in Anchoring Effect: How the Mind is Biased by First Impressions from Psyblog. Experts tend to be less susceptible to anchoring bias, based on their more complete understanding of a topic or issue. Beware of first impressions!

Confirmation Bias

Confirmational bias is realized as people make decisions that confirm beliefs that are already developed. Thoughts and actions are commonly influenced by ingrained stereotypes. Aspects of confirmation bias include biased (or selective) searches for information, biased interpretation, and biased memories. A good introduction to confirmation bias can be found at What is Confirmation Bias, by Shahram Heshmat, Psychology Today posted on April 23, 2015.

Imposter Effect

Imposter syndrome " a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a "fraud" " (Wikipedia).

Addressing Bias Issues

  • Proven Strategies for Addressing Unconscious Bias in the Workplace--from CDO Insights (August 2008, Volume 2 Issue 5)
  • Strategies to Address Unconscious Bias--compiled by the University of California San Francisco Office of Diversity and Outreach

Empowering Bystanders

Silence is complicity. Inaction is not an option. Bystanders can make a difference--to help prevent, to intervene to protect, and to report for mitigation-- if they:

Refer also to this presentation on Confronting Prejudiced Responses model by Dr. Stephanie Goodman, Director of Faculty Development and Leadership, Wright State University. The seminal article on CPR is The Confronting Prejudiced Responses (CPR) Model: Applying CPR in Organizations---Leslie Ashburn-Nardo, Kathryn A. Morris, and Stephanie A Goodwin, Academy of Management Learning and Education vol 7 #3 (Sept 2008), pp.. 332-342.

Some thoughts on empowering bystanders and whistleblowing: it appears that whistleblowing connotes bringing attention to violations of policy, and that this may not necessarily imply immediate personal harm, and might be done any time after acquiring evidence. Empowering bystanders appears to be an immediate response with some urgency to diffuse a situation (although some strategies encourage engaging follow-on actions such as a private talk with the perpetrator or manager), it seems to be on a more personal level. It's worth considering if there are the same protections against retaliation that might be available to bystanders that seem to be available to whistle blowers. Bystanders who take action are going to have to live with the consequences such as alienating co-workers or supervisors. The department/workplace climate has to honor and respect actions taken by individuals who take the initiative to do the right thing!