Our guide to Unconscious bias and what to do about it!

Unconscious and sub-Conscious bias

What is Unconscious or sub-conscious bias?

Critical Factors - People

Simply put Bias is a prejudice for or against something.  It is usually considered to be unfair. Biases are held by individuals, groups, or organisations and often have unintended consequences, sometimes negative and sometimes positive. There are a number of different  types of biases:

  • 1. Conscious bias(also known as explicit bias) and
  • 2. Unconscious bias (also known as implicit bias)


Unconscious biases in the context of an organisation are predetermined vies about a particular type of individual or group that an  individual forms without being aware of it.  We all  hold unconscious biases about various groups and types of individuals . These biases stem from our natural and usually innate desire to organise our social worlds by categorising individuals and groups.

Unconscious bias is more common than conscious or deliberate prejudice.  They are also often incompatible our publicly stated values. 

These biases, whether unconscious or conscious are not limited to ethnicity, gender or race. Racial and gender bias and discrimination are well documented but biases exist around age, gender identity, physical appearance, faith, sexual orientation, size and a huge range of other characteristics.

Interested in Unconscious Bias Training?

is there science behind Unconscious bias?

For more than 30 years our understanding of unconscious bias has been evolving.  We now understand unconscious and as a result a number of assessments have been developed to measure it.  The best of these is the Implicit Association Test which was specifically developed to assess unconscious bias.

Significant research has been published demonstrating the  impact of unconscious bias in a wide range of domains.  This has included the criminal justice system, education and business(Kirwan Institute, 2014).

Bias has an impact on recruitment, selection, hiring and promotion of individuals and groups within all organisations.

Here are Some things that we do know...

  • Unconscious or subconscious biases develop at an early age… they usually emerge during middle childhood continue to develop over time.(Dore, 2014).
  • These biases have real and measurable impacts on individual and group  behaviour.
  • Biases can be managed – individuals  can take steps to manage and minimise  them (Dasgupta, 2013).

Some Examples That illustrate Unconscious bias?

  • Studies clearly show that the names of job applicants can trigger unconscious bias in individuals on selection panels.  Identical resumes with only the surname changed for one racial stereotype to another often impacts those selected for interview for a job opportunity.
  • Evidence of gender bias is well researched and documented with some role types and industries experiencing significant bias challenges.  Gender in Civil Engineering as a well documented example.  Identical resumes submitted for civil engineering roles with only the name and gender of applicants changed generates opposite decisions regarding candidate selection.
  • Mean salaries of female researchers is often significantly less than their male colleagues for identical roles and experience (@$31,000 less) (Jagsi et al., 2013).

Assessing sub or Unconscious bias

Research on instruments and assessments to assess and measure  subconscious and unconscious bias (also known as implicit associations) has been conducted for decades. The bust and most researched of these assessments is the Implicit Association Test (IAT) which originated at Harvard University.   The IAT was developed as part of a project to detect unconscious bias based on several factors including race, gender, sexual orientation and nationality. 

How does the IAT assessment delivery?

The IAT measures the relative strength of associations between pairs of concepts. It is designed as a sorting task in which individuals are asked to sort images or words that appear on a computer screen into one of two categories. The basic premise is that when two concepts are highly correlated, people are able to pair those concepts more quickly than two concepts that are not well associated. The reliability and validity of the IAT have been rigorously tested.  It is considered to be a highly valid tool.

Strategies to address this bias?

Dealing with subconscious bias occurs at two levels.  Individual and organisational strategies.

Individual strategies to address unconscious bias include:

  • Promoting self-awareness: recognizing one’s biases using the Implicit Association Test (or other instruments to assess bias) is the first step.
  • Understanding the nature of bias is also essential. The strategy of categorization that gives rise to unconscious bias is a normal aspect of human cognition. Understanding this important concept can help individuals approach their own biases in a more informed and open way (Burgess, 2007).
  • Opportunities to have discussions, with others (especially those from socially dissimilar groups) can also be helpful. Sharing your biases can help others feel more secure about exploring their own biases. It’s important to have these conversations in a safe space-individuals must be open to alternative perspectives and viewpoints.
  • Facilitated discussions and training sessions promoting bias literacy utilizing the concepts and techniques listed about have been proven effective in minimizing bias. Evidence suggests that providing unconscious bias training for faculty members reduces the impact of bias in the workplace (Carnes, 2012).


Institutional Strategies include:

  • Develop clear, objective measures and outcomes for recruitment, evaluation, and promotion of all staff reduces the dangers posed by unconscious bias.  Thisincludes the use of psychometrics as part of the selection nd talent management process.
  • Develop consistent criteria to assess the impact of individual contributions towards an organisations goals.)
  • Providing unconscious bias training and capability programs for all employees has been shown to increase awareness of the issue.

Are there training programs to assist us combat subconcious bias?

Yes is the short answer: reach out to us on +61 1300936411 or email us at service@criticalfactors.com.au and we can work with you in this area.


We have 3 programs related to Unconscious Bias?

Introduction to unconscious bias is a virtual program introducing you to the basics of unconscious bias and why it is so important to be aware of it.

‘Stop, reflect and think’ is a good starting point for individuals and organisations that are starting to explore unconscious bias and it’s impact on culture and decision making.

‘Moving the Dial’ is a full day program that focusses on the skills we all need to disrupt the impact of unconscious bias on our interactions, behaviours, and decision-making.

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