What is Unconscious Bias?

3 October 2022

Here’s a fact there’s no escaping: you are guilty of unconscious bias. You’ve also been a victim of it. That’s because, no matter how open-minded people consider themselves to be, everyone forms unconscious assumptions and preconceptions about others based on their outward characteristics, which can manifest in a number of different ways.

Also known as ‘implicit bias’, unconscious bias seeps into just about every aspect of our lives, whether we’re aware of it or not. Thirty years of neurological and cognitive studies reveal that it influences much of how we experience and interact with the world; even when we’re determined to be 100% fair, it seems we’re simply unable to. You can think of unconscious bias as the thoughts you didn’t even realise you had; your mental blind spot. 

Although unconscious bias can do harm in all areas of life, it can be particularly costly when it sneaks into the workplace. In fact, its cost is projected at 64 billion dollars annually in the US, based on the cost of replacing workers who fall victim to unfairness and discrimination.

Although racial and gender biases are by far the most prevalent, research by Jaluch (https://www.jaluch.co.uk/unconscious-bias-infographic/) indicates that unconscious bias extends to many personal characteristics; lesbian and gay job seekers are 5% less likely to be given a job interview, and 80% of employers admit to making decisions based on a candidate’s regional accent. Given how shockingly prevalent unconscious bias is despite our best intentions, it’s useful to take a look at the proven effects it can have on any organisation’s long-term prospects.

Come back to our blog next week where we’ll look at how unconscious bias is costing your business.