Unconscious bias: are you being fair?

While most people do their best to treat people equally and try to avoid making judgements or assumptions about others based upon the way they look or dress, their age, their sex or their educational achievements, humans are programmed to do just this. Making these subtle assessments about people is, in part, how we negotiate our way around our world, and how we make choices and interact with others.

Given that we are all prone to unconscious bias, it is unsurprising that the concept of unconscious bias in the workplace – and the possibility of it leading to a sticky legal case on the grounds of discrimination – is an issue that keeps many employers awake at night.

Section 13(1) of the Equality Act 2010 states that direct discrimination occurs where, because of a protected characteristic, somebody is treated less favourably than others. The Act prohibits discrimination, harassment and victimisation in relation to nine protected characteristics: age, sex, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief and sexual orientation.

The Equality Act sets out an employer’s legal duty to avoid discriminating against a potential employee, whether at the interview or selection stage or while they are an employee.

There are many things employers can do to mitigate the risks of action against them on the grounds of bias and the risk of any of their employees’ careers being stymied by any bias.

Bear in mind too that if an employer unintentionally overlooks the skills of one or some applicants or staff members because of their sex, age, race, or even mode of dress, body art or postcode, they are potentially undermining their own business by ignoring their talents. So it is in everyone’s interest that unconscious bias is tackled head-on.

Tips for employers Full article by Shan Evans on CIPD