What is Unconscious Bias?

It’s all too easy for us to deny our prejudices, surely if I don’t use slurs and offensive terminology I am free from prejudice? Well, before we just throw the P-word around all willy-nilly, let’s just take a step back. You don’t have to identify as fanatic conservative to harbour preconceived ideas or baseless generalisations about certain subcultures and sectors of society. You may think you don’t have prejudice because you are tolerant and accepting but in truth, everyone harbours unconscious biasses. What is an unconscious bias you ask? Unconscious bias is an automatic mental process which affects your judgement of others – whether you are aware of it or not. More importantly, it impacts your ability to hire new employees, interview potential employees and even look for a new job.

What Biases do we Hold?

Before we even dip a toe in hot water here, let’s just leave the comedy to Trevor Noah and take this topic seriously before we laugh at each other – or ourselves for that matter. Our unconscious biasses range from the most obvious being race, age, gender, religion and sexual orientation, to the less touchy (but equally harmful) topics such as heritage, accent and area code to name a few. It’s not easy but we have to isolate these judgements in order to challenge them. For example; a Portuguese-South African is interviewing for a position as a C# developer, don’t make jokes about fruit and veg shops or sardines, for all you know this guy was teased mercilessly at school and still struggles with these stereotypes. Until you have learned where someone’s boundaries lie, don’t risk it – even subcultures are just off limits.

How Does Unconscious Bias Manifest?

Regardless of which side of the desk you sit on, unconscious bias will rear its seemingly innocuous head. You don’t even know it’s happening and it is already affecting your attitude, understanding and ultimately your decision making in any given situation. This discourse isn’t just based on a firmly worded letter written by a bored social justice warrior. A large body of research has been conducted to back this theory up, with many studies showing how pervasive and harmful stereotypes can be. While unconscious bias certainly affects how we treat new people in social situations, you better be aware of its impact on your job search or your employee search. You will find yourself making inaccurate assumptions and judgements about people which have greater repercussions.

Why do We Need to Address Unconscious Bias?

Ever walked into an office – any office, and noticed an unnerving lack of diversity? This is merely one reason for us to tackle unconscious bias. A lack of diversity on your team is more than a moral issue, it’s a hindrance to your team’s ability to find unique solutions to everyday problems. Fresh perspectives and new ways of doing things are what make any team successful and adaptable. If you are more concerned whether the blonde you just interviewed is high maintenance, you are unlikely to notice her fierce ambition and attention to detail – from which everyone on her team will benefit.

Now that we have a better idea of what unconscious bias is, we can begin tackling it in the workplace. Bias isn’t good for anyone, it stifles creativity and hinders productivity which is why we have to give it the boot. Our teams, offices and homes will be richer for it.






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