Improving equality, diversity and inclusion in your workplace

Dealing with unconscious bias

How a person thinks can depend on their life experiences and sometimes they have beliefs and views about other people that might not be right or reasonable.

This is known as 'unconscious bias' and includes when a person thinks:

  • better of someone because they believe they're alike
  • less of someone because that person is different to them, for example, they might be of a different race, religion or age

This means they could make a decision influenced by false beliefs or assumptions. Sometimes it's also called 'stereotyping'.

Everyone can think in a way that involves unconscious bias at some point, but it's important to be aware of it and not let it affect behaviour or decisions.

Apart from in very limited circumstances allowed in law, employers and employees must not make decisions about job applicants or staff based on a protected characteristic. Doing so could lead to a discrimination claim to an employment tribunal.

Example

A male manager thinks men work harder. When he's recruiting for a new position, he chooses not to hire a female applicant and instead hires a man, even though the recruitment process showed the female applicant was the better applicant.

Ways to avoid unconscious bias

Ways to avoid unconscious bias at work include:

  • being aware of unconscious bias
  • advertising a job vacancy in at least 2 different places to reach a wide range of people from different backgrounds
  • getting recruiting managers to agree to make each other aware if they notice stereotyping
  • holding back some details on job application forms, such as the applicant's name or sex (this is called 'blind sifting'), that could affect recruiting managers' opinions
  • where possible, having one of the interviewers on the phone so they do not make decisions based on the physical appearance of the person being interviewed
  • at each stage, having more than one person sifting job applications, interviewing the applicants and deciding who gets the job
  • allowing time to make decisions, for example on recruitment, promotions or grievance and disciplinary outcomes
  • keeping a written record of why decisions were made