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Advancing equality and diversity in universities and colleges

Unconscious bias

Your background, personal experiences, societal stereotypes and cultural context can have an impact on your decisions and actions without you realising.

Implicit or unconscious bias happens by our brains making incredibly quick judgments and assessments of people and situations without us realising. Our biases are influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences. We may not even be aware of these views and opinions, or be aware of their full impact and implications.

Impact of unconscious bias

Research has found that unconscious bias can heavily influence recruitment and selection decisions. Several experiments using CV shortlisting exercises have highlighted bias by gender and ethnicity.

A study of science faculties in higher education institutions (Moss-Racusin et al 2012) asked staff to review a number of applications. The applications reviewed were identical, apart from the gender of the name of the applicant.

Science faculties were more likely to:

  • rate male candidates as better qualified than female candidates
  • want to hire the male candidates rather than the female candidates
  • give the male candidate a higher starting salary than the female candidate
  • be willing to invest more in the development of the male candidate than the female candidate

Here, unconscious bias impacts not only on the recruitment decision, but the salary of the individual and the amount of development that is invested in their ongoing progression.