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Drawing Attention to Bias #IWD2023

With International Women’s Day fast approaching, we are nearly at the end of our blog series on the theme of #EmbracingEquality. So far we have considered, challenging stereotypes and calling out discrimination. Part three of our series will discuss the topic: drawing attention to bias.

The Royal Society states that unconscious bias ‘is when we make judgments or decisions on the basis of our prior experience, our own personal deep-seated thought patterns, assumptions or interpretations, and we are not aware that we are doing it’ (Frith, 2015).On the other hand, ‘conscious bias is a set of attitudes and beliefs that we have toward an individual or group at a conscious level; deliberate thoughts in response to a perceived threat’ (Stevenson & Bauer, 2019).

In a study conducted by Deloitte, 3,000 participants were surveyed on the topic of bias. The results find that ‘86% of respondents said that they could be themselves bias at work the majority of the time; 39% said they experience bias frequently – at least once a month; 83% categorize the bias(es) they have experienced and/or witnessed in the workplace as subtle and indirect, or microaggressions.’ The study implies that on a wider scale bias is prevalent today in the workplace and is clearly something that employers need to be aware of.

Conduct or decisions based on bias can pose a large risk to organisations, mainly because the Equality Act 2010 protects against discrimination on the basis of nine characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation (Participation, 2010). Bias can be based on or tainted by at least one of the characteristics aforementioned which have the potential, should a claim be raised, go before an employment tribunal.

Employers can take the following steps to mitigate against or remove unconscious bias from the workplace:

Provide training and education: Employers can provide training and education to employees on unconscious bias, including how it can affect decision-making, and how to recognise and challenge it.

Review recruitment and selection processes: Employers can review recruitment and selection processes to remove any elements that may trigger unconscious bias, such as gendered language or irrelevant criteria.

Use objective and standardised criteria: Employers can use objective and standardised criteria in recruitment, selection, promotion, and performance evaluation processes to reduce the impact of unconscious bias. Decision making should be based on a number of sources, and not on personal judgement alone; employers and people practitioners should look for good quality data, evidence and information.

Promote diversity and inclusion: Employers can promote diversity and inclusion by actively recruiting, within the confines of the Equality Act, and supporting employees from a range of backgrounds, providing equal opportunities for professional development, and ensuring that everyone feels included and valued in the workplace.

Encourage open communication and feedback: Employers can encourage open communication and feedback to help identify and address unconscious bias, and to create a culture of inclusion where everyone feels comfortable sharing their experiences and perspectives.

In our fourth and final blog in the series we will discuss: Seeking out Inclusion’.