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What is Unconscious Bias?

Unconscious Bias - E-Learning

Manager is selecting one virtual worker in a lineup of eight differently colored male employee icons. Concept for multiculturalism, equal opportunity employment and a business case for diversity.

Unconscious bias relates to the social stereotyping we all subconsciously undergo in certain situations, or with individuals outside of our own culture group, and is thought to be more widespread than conscious prejudice.

As the name suggests, unconscious bias operates outside of our awareness and can even be at odds with our conscious ethical values and belief structure.

It also relates to the sort of stereotyping you’d find with regard to design elements (including seemingly innocuous symbols such as, emoji), specific words, images and actions.

Our unconscious bias operates unnoticed by us as we wend our way throughout the world and perform our daily tasks.

This blog discusses what unconscious bias actually is and how it can be overcome.



Unconscious Bias – take a closer look

When thinking about unconscious bias (if that isn’t a contradiction in terms) it can be difficult to assess where our personal prejudices lie, especially if we consider ourselves to be an openminded individual with limited preconceived notions regarding a particular person, place, or thing.

However, our culture, upbringing, friends, and education can all have a bearing on our unconscious bias.

The following list gives a brief insight into some of the factors which affect our unconscious thought processes:

• Culture – our predominant societal culture instils a sense of self and community within us from our earliest years. We learn from what we see and experience, and find safety in the familiar. The unfamiliar can be seen as a risk, which we naturally stay away from, for self-preservation.

Education – teachers are not exempt from unconscious bias and unfortunately, as youngsters, we often take onboard their views too. However, unconscious bias can extend as far as the perceived ‘naughty’ children in class (you wouldn’t name your first son after the naughtiest boy in your school, would you?) and patterns of behaviour that we learned from watching our teachers, other students and friends interact.

• Family and friends – our home upbringing has a huge impact on our unconscious biases. Parental conditioning teaches us from an early age through ‘rewards’ for perceived ‘correct’ behaviour or punishment for ‘incorrect’ behaviour and these messages can easily get confused within our relationships. Our experiences and environment reinforce our unconscious biases and form the basis of our behaviour patterns that we use throughout our life.

We gather an untold amount of information over the course of a lifetime and these all shape our mental processes, reactions and attitudes. To overcome negative or pejorative biases we must discover them and learn effective methods for overcoming them.


Overcoming Unconscious Bias

We’ve established that unconscious bias is formed over our lifetime but this does not mean that it can’t be altered or changed.

Our unconscious categorization linked to gender, religion, race, disability, body size and so on, are often instant, subconscious reactions but they can be overcome, especially with mindful effort, time and training.

The following tips will encourage an awareness of thoughts, reactions and judgements so that we become more mindful of our biases and can overcome them through conscious choice.

• Internal Dialogue – watch what you are thinking (especially if you notice that you’ve had an extreme reaction to a particular person or event) and monitor how things make you feel. Be aware of the thoughts and feelings you experience as often as possible

• Step out of your comfort zone – purposefully stepping out of our comfort zone is difficult but often very rewarding. Engage with people who aren’t another version of you in terms of age, gender, ethnicity and so on, and evaluate the outcome of these interactions. Did you find the experience rewarding? Did you feel uncomfortable? What was the overriding end result? If it was generally a positive experience and you can recognise this, then you are on your way to overcoming your unconscious bias regarding that particular event or person.

• Develop a conscious moral code – developing a conscious moral code that is founded on equality, fairness, respect for others and open-mindedness, reinforces the values you wish to cultivate and will begin to promote a subconscious change.

Unconscious bias training – is a great way to explore more about the subject, discover your own hidden biases and learn how to overcome them. Course content varies hugely so be sure to check the course you chose is right for you. For instance, if you are working in a multicultural environment, consider a course that covers cultural aspects of unconscious bias so that your learning is relevant.


At Creative Word, we offer training linked to cultural awareness, unconscious bias, and promoting diversity and inclusion within the workplace.

Talk to one of our team members now if you’d like to find out more.