Becoming more woke to unconscious bias

Posted 05:14 AM by Tom Hunt & filed under learning, training tuesday, diversity .

Earlier this week our now fully-fledged Account Manager Sara (congrats again on the promo, Sara!) conducted a super Training Tuesday session on diversity, centred around race. I for one am not ashamed to say that I learnt a lot, despite perceiving myself as a balanced chap towards all races, backgrounds and genders (I’m also aware that I’m a white cis-gendered male).


The most interesting part of the session for me was around unconscious (often referred to as implicit) bias. We all have unconscious bias to some extent, not necessarily exclusively linked to race, but perhaps regarding age, sexuality, wealth or a multitude of different factors. In simple terms, automatically judging someone on the fact they are different to you, is unconscious bias. This bias is often formed from our own experiences, and is often driven by the media or the common viewpoints of those around us (families, co-workers, celebrities etc.).

So what’s the big deal?

In a word, inequality.

Unconscious bias is without a doubt the single largest driver of inequality in the world today. But, conversely, racial equality, and indeed gender equality are probably greater talking points now than they ever have been before — with the likes of  #BlackLivesMatter and  #MeToo permeating the public consciousness, with the aim of driving awareness and positive change.

So, is the world becoming a more tolerant place? If you’re looking back one hundred years then you could argue yes, it has. But, if you’re assessing say the last 18 months, taking the globally fractious political climate onboard, it seems like the good work of the many is being undone by a few small-minded bigots who have somehow managed to get their voices amplified.

This, coupled with my greater awareness of unconscious bias concerns me. Not only from a personal perspective, but also from a professional one. In the communications industry as a whole in the UK, only 9% of the workforce are from ethnic minority backgrounds — despite being 13% of the overall population according to recent figures. It’s clear something has to change. And more of us being aware of unconscious bias is an important first step here.

Unsure of why a diverse workforce is a massive bonus? Well the facts can’t be denied. Sexually diverse or racially diverse organisations consistently outperform those which aren’t. And it makes sense. Different perspectives, opinions and skills are more likely to come (shock horror) from a more diverse group of people.

Make your unconscious bias, conscious

So, for the more senior of you comms professionals reading this, those which may be responsible for hiring especially — I implore you to do your homework on unconscious (or implicit) bias. Ensure that when you’re making the decision whether to hire the person sitting opposite you in that boardroom, that you’re judging them on their skills, ability and accomplishments — not their gender, race, accent, weight, clothes or where they live. Basically, make your unconscious bias conscious, and throw out your preconceptions.  

 I don’t know about you, but I think life would be incredibly boring if we were all the same. And recognising unconscious bias, and how it could affect your decision-making is a great first step to take in making your business, your industry, and indeed the wider world a slightly nicer and more equal place to be for everyone. Do that and you too, in the words of Sara, can be a little bit more woke.

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