Unconscious bias in the HRM literature: Towards a critical-reflexive approach

Kai Inga Liehr Storm, Lea Katharina Reiss, Elisabeth Anna Günther, Maria Clar-Novak , Sara Louise Muhr

Publications: Contribution to journalArticlePeer Reviewed


This article presents a systematic review of the human resource management (HRM) literature to document how the term “unconscious bias” is defined, theorized, and operationalized in a sample of 518 articles in the field. The review identifies four main thematic streams in which unconscious bias is commonly discussed: (1) the biased individual; (2) bias as binary; (3) bias in moments of decisions; and (4) bias as a fixable issue. Based on this thematic mapping of the literature, a critical-reflexive approach is outlined to shed light on and challenge taken-for-granted assumptions, interrogate how arguments are brought forth and open up new avenues for future research. This article contributes to the existing HRM literature in three ways. First, it shows patterns in existing theory, making explicit the inconsistencies and tacit assumptions in the ways in which unconscious bias is theorized in HRM research. Second, it presents a critical-reflexive approach to researching unconscious bias. Third, based on this approach, it suggests avenues for future research on how to move beyond these inconsistencies and assumptions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number100969
JournalHuman Resource Management Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2023

Austrian Fields of Science 2012

  • 502026 Human resource management
  • 504013 Gender mainstreaming


  • Intersectionality
  • Prejudice
  • Stereotype
  • Systematic review
  • Unconscious bias

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