What is unconscious bias?

A ‘Bias’ is a prejudice in favour of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another usually in a way that’s considered to be unfair. Biases may be held by an individual, group, or institution and can have negative or positive consequences.  An example would be a lean towards Homophobia, Racism or other types of discrimination, this isn’t a direct discrimination statement, merely an internal judgement that is misinformed by such a bias.

There are two main types of biases:

  1. Conscious bias (also known as explicit bias)
  2. Unconscious bias (also known as implicit bias)

It is important to note that biases, conscious or unconscious, are not limited to ethnicity and race. Though racial bias and discrimination are well documented, biases may exist toward any social group. One’s age, gender, gender identity physical abilities, religion, sexual orientation, weight, and many other characteristics are subject to bias. 

Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from one’s tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing. 

Unconscious bias is far more prevalent than conscious prejudice and often incompatible with one’s conscious values. Certain scenarios can activate unconscious attitudes and beliefs. For example, biases may be more prevalent when multi-tasking or working under time pressure. In circumstances where an individual or organisation has been impacted negatively, be that legal, media or internal complaints. These over time can create the idea of an ‘issue’ or ‘problem’ with a certain community or characteristic. Even if this against the individual or organisation’s ethos and ethics.

Individual strategies to address unconscious bias include:

  • Promoting self-awareness: recognising one’s biases using third party training is the first step.
  • Understanding the nature of bias is also essential. The strategy of categorization that gives rise to unconscious bias is a normal aspect of human cognition. Understanding this important concept can help individuals approach their own biases in a more informed and open way.
  • Opportunities to have discussions, with others (especially those from socially dissimilar groups) can also be helpful. Sharing your biases can help others feel more secure about exploring their own biases. It’s important to have these conversations in a safe space-individuals must be open to alternative perspectives and viewpoints.
  • Facilitated discussions and training sessions promoting bias literacy utilising the concepts and techniques listed about have been proven effective in minimising bias. 
  • Accepting that EVERYONE will have a form of unconscious bias.

Institutional Strategies

All institutions should:

  • Develop concrete, objective indicators & outcomes for hiring, evaluation, and promotion to reduce standard stereotypes. This is recognise and self-check in-house bias.
  • Develop standardised criteria to assess the impact of individual contributions in performance evaluations.
  • Develop and utilise structured interviews and develop objective evaluation criteria for staff training and development.
  • Provide unconscious bias training workshops for all staff and core workers / volunteers.