Our NHS People

Unconscious bias

Do you recoil a little at the term ‘bias’?   As a society, we have designated the word ‘bias’ as negative. Perhaps you associate it with poor decision making, injustice or even hatred.

If someone described you as biased, what would your response be? Most of us would defend ourselves and we may begin to list all the instances in which we have exhibited behaviours that include and value others.

Through our response, we are saying that we value justice and rationally and cognitively we act with fairness. Yet, how do we explain the doll test from the previous step?

How have a generation of children learned to assign labels of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ with skin colour?

“Our traditional paradigm has generally assumed that patterns of discriminatory behaviour in organisations are conscious; that people who know better do the right thing, and those who don’t cause bias. 

As a result, we have developed a ‘good person/bad person’ paradigm of diversity: a belief that good people are not biased, but inclusive, and that bad people are the biased ones.

The problem with the good person/bad person paradigm is … human beings, at some level, need bias to survive. So, are we biased? Of course.

Virtually every one of us is biased toward something, somebody, or some group.”

(H. Ross (2008) Proven Strategies for Addressing Unconscious Bias in the Workplace.)

We are all naturally biased. We have preferences towards some people or some groups. Bias only becomes an issue when we act out our biases. Some actions may be small, some large, some inconsequential and some unintentionally harmful.

The focus of effort when we wish to be inclusive and compassionate when we show up to be with and lead in our workplace then becomes:

  1. How do we be more aware of our hidden preferences, attitudes, and stereotypes? 
  2. How do we be more intentional in our actions, more inclusive and compassionate with our new awareness?

Let’s start with awareness in this step and we’ll start a dialogue about difference in the next.

Discover more about your unconscious bias by taking one or more of the Harvard Implicit Association Tests.

(NOTE: This activity is optional. The tests are part of a research study at the Universities of Washington, Virginia, Harvard, and Yale. Data exchanged with the IAT site is protected by SSL encryption, and no personally identifying information is collected. IP addresses are routinely recorded but are completely confidential.)

You have the option to disclose diversity information at the end of the test to support the research, should you choose.  Make notes in your personal journal. 

Q. What emotional reaction do you have to the results and why?

Q. What do you notice about yourself through the results and the way in which you engaged with and processed the test?

Q. How does this awareness need to impact your actions?