Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW

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Reducing unconscious bias in decision making

Published: 26 Feb 2016

You may think you aren’t discriminating, but what effect does unconscious bias have on your decision making? Find out how to test yourself here.

Background

One of the issues discussed at the Australasian Council of Human Rights Agencies conference (ACHRA) 2016 was unconscious bias and how we can prevent this from resulting in discrimination.​

image of man thinking 
Unconscious bias is something we all have, even if we think we are fair. It arises from our background, education, environment, experiences and even our genes. It’s part of each of us, and most of the time we don’t think about it. But it may affect how we make decisions or impose requirements.   

Result

The result can be unlawful discrimination. As Leica Wagner from Equal Opportunity Tasmania observed, it doesn’t matter whether or not you intend to discriminate against anyone. It’s the effect that counts.    

Indirect discrimination can occur where the intention was to treat everyone equally, but the policy, practice or procedure has a detrimental effect on some groups. However, the fact that intention is not required as a proof of discrimination has advantages. It helps us to address discrimination without branding employers, governments, policy makers or anyone else as deliberately discriminatory. 

Awareness

How can you recognise your own unconscious bias? Knowing that it exists helps. We all tend to think that people from our own ethnic or racial background are superior to everyone else, and there’s nothing wrong with that - as Steve Mark AM, our keynote speaker, pointed out. It’s healthy multiculturalism. Knowing that you are no different from anyone else in that respect can help you to be more consciously objective when making recruitment decisions in areas such as recruitment.

Associate Professor Winnifred Louis from the School of Psychology at Queensland University spoke at the conference about unconscious bias and the many reasons why we should try to overcome it. 

We can even be unconsciously biased against ourselves – for example we can share the stigma or stereotypes that are applied to people in our own age group, gender or disability. She also spoke about “minority stress” and the fact that perceived discrimination is associated with physical and mental ill health. 

Test your biases

There are various options for testing your own unconscious bias on the internet. Winnifred Louis recommended Project Implicit- http://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/. The results may surprise you!

​​Back to February 2016 - Equal Times Newsletter

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