Unconscious bias: how to avoid it

Unconscious bias refers to in-built prejudices and preconceived notions which we may not even know we hold. These preconceived notions might be influenced by factors such as our upbringing and personal experiences.

Although inevitably we all suffer from some form of unconscious bias, as it is natural, unconscious bias could lead to discrimination claims if it relates to a protected characteristic e.g. sex.

Experts have suggested that to tackle, in particular, gender biases in traditionally male dominated industries, we need to become more aware of their existence.  On 6 April 2017 the Equality Act 2010 (Gender Pay Gap Information) Regulations 2017 came into force, which requires all voluntary and private-sector employers with 250 or more employees to publish information about their gender pay gap. The reporting could prove to be a useful tool in shedding more light on that particular issue.

Apart from pay, another aspect of the employment relationship where unconscious bias often appears is recruitment.

You may have experienced making recruitment choices because you “like” the candidate, perhaps because you share personal traits with them (also known as affinity bias) or because employing a particular candidate just “feels right”. However that can allow unconscious bias to impact the decision.

Employers should educate those individuals involved in recruitment to avoid making recruitment decisions because “it feels right” and instead help them focus on selecting individuals based on merit, to ensure that those choices are not tainted by discrimination or bias.  For example:

  • Ensure that you have more than one person on the interview panel; this will reduce the possibility of an individual’s in-built prejudices affecting the selection of a candidate who is well suited for the particular role.
  • Work together with your panel members by asking for feedback.
  • Focus on positive behaviour of candidates and not negative stereotypes.
  • Justify your initial decision and always keep a record so that you can demonstrate how you reached the final conclusion.
Dominic Bonham