Combating unconscious bias helps promote equity and fairness in decision-making.
What is unconscious bias?
Unconscious or ‘hidden’ bias refers to attitudes and patterns of perceptions that are held subconsciously and can be very ingrained. We all have them. Not dissimilar to stereotyping, these automatic associations can lead to assumptions that are not always accurate, and can have a detrimental impact in decision-making.
Unconscious bias influences thoughts and actions that can result in the creation of unfair advantages or disadvantages without the decision-maker’s awareness.
Unconscious bias can be about someone’s ethnicity, gender, age, accent, sexual orienation, parental status, just to name a few. It unwittingly permeates workplaces, affecting decision-making processes, including recruitment, promotion, development and access to other opportunities.
Ultimately, when judgements and decisions are influenced by implicit biases, they can result in unfair and negative consequences for those who are subjects of this bias, and potentially result in discrimination.
Common types of unconscious bias View
Affinity bias: The tendency to warm to people who are more like us.
Halo effect: The tendency to only see the good about a person because of a personal affinity for the person; often described as ‘first impressions'. The opposite is the “horns effect” where a snap judgement is made based on a single negative trait.
Perception bias: The tendency to form stereotypes and assumptions about certain groups that can interfere with an objective assessment about individuals in those groups.
Confirmation bias: The tendency for people to seek information that confirms pre-existing beliefs or assumptions. This is an underlying tendency to notice, focus on, and provide greater credence to evidence that fits with our existing beliefs.
Conformity bias: The tendency people have to behave like those around them rather than using their own personal judgement. This type of bias often stems from seeking acceptance and validation from other people and from the need to hold views that are agreeable by the majority.
Gender bias: The tendency to prefer one gender over another.
Similarity bias: The tendency to form a favourable view of others who are similar to the decision-maker.
Distance bias: The tendency to prioritise input from people who are nearer in proximity/physical space, time or other domains, as opposed to people dialling in from remote locations.
Tips to tackle unconscious bias
The best way to reduce unconscious biases is to become aware of them. Awareness training is typically the first step in this process to help recognise that nobody is immune to unconscious bias.
Undertake one of the Harvard Implicit Association Tests (IAT) to become more aware of your own biases. You can test your implicit attitudes on a range of topics including religion, age, disability, gender-career, sexuality, race and others. The Harvard Implicit Association Test is one of the most effective online tools to gain greater awareness of one’s own biases, by measuring the strength of your associations between concepts.
To learn more about the role of unconscious bias, how this can impact our decision-making and how tackling unconscious biases support our business case for staff diversity, Monash staff can also undertake the Inclusive Leadership training.
- Understand that unconscious bias is normal and try to identify your biases and their potential impact on decision-making.
- Accept that we all have unconscious biases.
- Reflect on your own approach to decision-making and how potential biases may play out in the workplace.
- Question assumptions and practice inclusion skills by inviting input from someone different such as someone less senior, or more junior than yourself.
Take time View
Unconscious bias often stems from fast thinking that is often based on limited information and increases our likelihood of bias. Where gaps in information exist, our tendency to make assumptions in order to fill those gaps means we fail to make objective assessments. The urgency to make quick decisions can often lead to biases as conclusions are made based on limited information (information most readily available).
Bring diversity into decision-making View
With diversity comes multiple perspectives. When members of a committee or a panel bring a variety of backgrounds, cultures and experiences, they are more likely to make inclusive decisions. Different views and perspectives lead to more thorough critical thinking, and a greater chance of overcoming any unconscious biases.
Lead by example View
- Discuss your own biases before reviewing or interviewing candidates applying for roles and opportunities.
- Make a conscious effort to look beyond common stereotypes and seek to challenge default assumptions.
- Acknowledge any assumptions you may have, including unconscious biases in your language, and encourage others to do the same.
- Keep a checklist of how you mitigate your own biases. Fostering a fair and transparent process by calling out incidents of bias is something each of us can do.