Unconscious bias in the workplace

UBC is committed to building a diverse, inclusive, safe and vibrant workplace by identifying and supporting inclusive and equitable hiring, selection, referral and peer review processes. 

Unconscious bias is an ever-present challenge facing search committees in their efforts to ensure an equitable hiring process. Before finding ways to mitigate the bias from hiring, selection, referral and peer review processes, we must understand it, and identify our own unconscious biases.

What is bias?

Bias is a prejudice in favour of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, and is generally considered unfair. Biases may be held by an individual, group, or institution and can result in negative or positive consequences. 

Biases develop over the course of a lifetime. Starting with childhood, we are exposed to direct and indirect messages about race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation and the socio-economic status of others. These messages and learned associations directly impact our feelings, attitudes and opinions about other people. 

What is unconscious bias?

Unconscious, or implicit bias is a systematic way of thinking that can cloud our judgment and impact our decision-making. It refers to attitudes based on stereotypes that we have been taught which affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. The attitudes and beliefs are often involuntarily and outside of our awareness or intentional control. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from our tendency to organize social worlds by simplistic categorization.

Dr. Sara-Jane Finlay, Associate Vice-President, Equity & Inclusion speaks about unconscious bias in peer review, in reference letters, and in the selection and appointment process. She refers to unconscious bias studies and unpacks the ways in which unconscious bias can be mitigated and overcome. 

Strategies to mitigate unconscious bias in the workplace

Overcoming unconscious bias requires work at both the individual and institutional level. There are several ways you can address unconscious bias: 

  • Recognize and acknowledge that we all have unconscious bias 
  • Educate yourself on the nature of bias and the strategy of categorization 
  • Reach out to people dissimilar to you and have discussions around unconscious bias 
  • Develop a structure and criteria for selection, hiring, evaluation and promotion, and stay the course with all applications. Do not let yourself get distracted. 
  • Give yourself abundant time to review applications 
  • Double-check the metrics. Do you have disproportionate number of people from different groups? Make sure you have not deviated from your structure, process or criteria 
  • Attend trainings and workshops to further your understanding of unconscious bias. 

Interested in learning more?

Explore these great resources discussing unconscious bias and strategies to address it: