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UNCONSCIOUS BIAS. SASHA SCOTT & DAMIAN JENKINS. What is it?. Natural, in-built preferences Filters we apply to every day life to make handling of information possible at all. What is going on?. Brain receives app. 11,000,000 pieces of information per second

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unconscious bias





what is it

What is it?

Natural, in-built preferences

Filters we apply to every day life to make handling of information possible at all

what is going on
What is going on?
  • Brain receives app. 11,000,000 pieces of information per second
  • Needs to ‘attend’ to only a small proportion of this information
  • Rest dealt with by sub-processors
even free decisions partly subconscious soon et al 2008
Even ‘free decisions’ partly subconscious Soon et al 2008
  • People asked to make decision freely
  • Brain scan records activity
  • Brain active for up to 7s before conscious decision areas active!
you can even answer questions unconsciously
You can even answer questions unconsciously..


Answering YES to a question

Answering NO to a question


why not think consciously about everything
Why not think consciously about everything?
  • Too slow
  • Too costly
  • Would ruin ‘fight or flight’
  • SO unconscious decision making necessary for survival
what determines this unconscious response
What determines this unconscious response?
  • Previous experiences & teachings
  • Hard wiring
  • No previous experience means no previous hard wiring
some terminology
Some Terminology
  • Kinship Group: Those people who share externally, and self-ascribed, characteristics
    • These set the group apart from others
    • White versus black
    • Male versus female
    • Gay versus straight
some more terminology
Some more terminology
  • Schema: expectation about a person’s characteristics based on their membership of a group
    • Schemas can conflict with what you think your conscious view point is (I get on with gay people: implicit tests argues otherwise etc.)
    • Changes with repeated exposure to different people and experiences
most likely to rely on schemas when
Most likely to rely on schemas when..
  • Stressed
  • Distracted
  • Under time pressure
  • There is ambiguity
  • There is a lack of ‘critical mass’
critical mass
Critical mass
  • If you have lots of black people in a group you are more likely NOT to see the colour and to start differentiating between individuals
  • If you do a diversity test in a mixed colour group you are likely to score higher
  • If you do a test of bias against women in a group consisting 50% women rather than 10% women you score as being less biased
lgbt difficulty
LGBT difficulty
  • Critical mass may not be reached
  • Far fewer openly gay men amongst soldiers
  • Far fewer gay women amongst officers
  • Vanishingly small number of bi and transgender personnel
but at the organisational level
But at the organisational level
  • Means teams become very similar in their mix of people
  • Minority groups alienated. Accumulation of minor disadvantages leads to an overall view that ‘I cannot get on in this job’  Loss of talent from groups


  • Organisations lose out on operational effectiveness. This is clear from all business case examples
use of schemas is prevalent when
Use of schemas is prevalent when
  • Recruiting
  • Undertaking appraisals
  • When deciding which employee goes on a course/training/AT
  • Awards and promotions
handbook 1
Handbook 1
  • Diagram 1
    • Stare at the crosshair in the middle
  • Diagram 2
    • Which is bigger? Central circle on the left or right?
  • Diagram 3
    • Which dude is larger?
how does this relate to the workplace
How does this relate to the workplace?
  • Explicit bias is no longer accepted
  • Despite this minorities still under-represented
  • ‘Not a team player’
  • ‘Just didn’t fit in’
  • This shows how pernicious is the effect of implicit bias
bias affects the performance of those being type cast
Bias affects the performance of those being type-cast
  • Three groups of Asian post-grads given maths test
  • Before sitting test asked to sit questionnaire
  • 1st group: Qs about Asian-ness
  • 2nd group: Qs about Female qualities
  • 3rd group: Neutral questionnaire
  • Scores on maths test:
    • Gp 1 52% > Gp 3 45% > Gr 2 42%
promotes homogeneity
Promotes homogeneity

5’9 Av Male Height

6’ Av Height CEOs

14.5% of men are >6’


58% of all Fortune 500 CEOs are >6’



limits potential
Limits potential

UK female managers earn an average salary of £31,895

UK male managers earn an average salary of £42,441

With exactly the same CVs

women score 3.33/5 for ‘competency’ and men 4.05/5

gives rise to irrational statistics
Gives rise to irrational statistics

The average ‘good looker’ earns 3-4% more over their lifetime than

someone considered not a ‘good looker’.

and clear discrimination
..and clear discrimination

Women begin being discriminated against at a BMI of 27

For men it’s 35

Overweight men earn 2.3% less than their colleagues

For women it’s 6.2%









72% employees victimised at work because of accent

63% employees with an accent have hidden it at a job interview

In telephone interviews people from Edinburgh 4x more likely to get job

than person from Glasgow with same CV

what is clear about this
What is clear about this?
  • Ability in the workplace is not linked to:







  • And yet all of these factors come into play!
and when the affected person complains
And when the affected person complains..
  • You have no reference point for what LGBT people are like
  • Therein you associate LGBT soldiers with moaning
  • This makes you less likely to helpful to the next LGBT person you meet
  • The cycle continues
  • LGBT staff unmotivated
  • Negative mind set
  • Make no effort to integrate with a team that also makes no effort to integrate
  • Withdraw
  • Complain or leave or ‘fly solo’
  • Brain drain
  • Human cost, team cost, financial cost
  • No winners
which means
Which means

We are not representative of the society we seek to serve and protect

the good news
The Good News
  • You can unlearn unconscious biases
  • BUT it requires effort