What is Unconscious Bias?

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‘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.


Equality and Diversity for Researcher Careers

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As many of you will know, the Equality Act 2010 replaced previous anti-discrimination law consolidating and streamlining it into a single act. The Act recognises that different treatment is necessary to ensure equality and recognises nine protected characteristics: age, disability (including carers of disabled people), gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief (including lack of belief), sex and sexual orientation.

In 2011 Vitae led the project ‘Every Researcher Counts: equality and diversity in researcher careers in HE‘ which was funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England with support from the Scottish Funding Council, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales and the Department for Education and Learning Northern Ireland who see these activities as an important part of their implementation strategy for the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers.

This successful project achieved the following:

  • Flexible materials and resources for staff developers to embed in leadership development programmes for principal investigators
  • A network of over 100 equality and diversity champions
  • Briefing papers for staff developers; PIs, research group leaders and research managers; and senior managers and HR specialists
  • A selection of case studies providing examples of embedding equality and diversity practices in institutions.

Want to know more? The Vitae SWW Hub would like to invite staff involved in supporting researchers to the following FREE event:

Equality and Diversity in the Researcher Environment
Tuesday, June 11 at Bristol Zoo – 10.00- 15.30

The purpose of this event is to inform participants of the strategic importance of equality and diversity policy and practice for researchers, embedded in the research environment, particularly in view of the RCUK Statement of Expectations for Equality and Diversity.

Equality and diversity initiatives for researchers in HEIs are often focused on achieving parity for women, but through a new programme of activities Vitae, working on behalf of the Research Councils and funding bodies, would like to promote a broader awareness of equality and diversity issues in this area to research managers and leaders.

The event is FREE to attend, but we ask participants to pay their own travel expenses.
To book your place,and for more details of the programme  go to: www.vitae.ac.uk/swwhubed2013.