What is Unconscious Bias?

people around the globe

‘Unconscious Bias’, sometimes known as implicit bias, has become quite a buzz-phrase in training recently: a thought-provoking consideration in any working environment, including higher education and research. Issues pertinent to equality and diversity have found new focus with the Athena SWAN award (http://www.athenaswan.org.uk/content/awards ) links to funding in STEMM subjects, plus the more recent trial by the Equality Challenge Unit of the Gender Equality Charter Mark (GEM) for Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences (http://www.ecu.ac.uk/our-projects/gender-charter-mark ). ‘ Unconscious bias’ looks at how we think and how we act.
This month’s blog aims to highlight some of the key considerations and tips, plus sign-posting to further information.
So, what is unconscious bias?
In psychological terms it is a bias we are unaware of, or is outside of our control, triggering automatic judgements and assessments influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences. This can have an effect at work, not least in recruitment, interviews, appraisals and promotions. We all have such biases but their effects can be reduced by positive awareness on a personal level and positive strategies in the workplace.
Be aware.
By understanding the existence of our unconscious biases we can mitigate their impact. On an individual level for example, if you are being interviewed but feel that a disability of situation in your life may count against you, volunteer the information to overcome any assumptions that may be made by the panel. In the wider workplace, processes, policies and procedures can be reviewed to mitigate shared or potential biases. For instance, build in diversity as a requirement on recruitment panels or even research project advisory groups.
Take action.
To find out more you may wish to visit the ‘Teaching Tolerance’ website: http://www.tolerance.org/activity/test-yourself-hidden-bias . This is linked to ‘Project Implicit’ and Harvard’s Hidden Bias Tests. If you’re interested in taking one of the tests on a range on topics visit: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/ … they can be an eye-opener.
Ultimately, even if you are aware of your biases, and those of the people you work with, it is up to the individual WHAT action they choose to take.
Vitae have a programme of resources linked to equality and diversity issues in the HE research environment. ‘Every Researcher Counts’ materials can be found at: https://www.vitae.ac.uk/doing-research/every-researcher-counts-equality-and-diversity-in-researcher-careers , primarily for use by researcher developers to support research staff and academics leading projects. Please register (free) with Vitae to see the full range of resources available, or contact the Midlands Hub manager (midlandshub@vitae.ac.uk ) for ideas on how best to use the case studies and other programme material, to further the understanding of equality and diversity issues at your institution.


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