Unconscious Bias (UB) is a result of our brain making very quick judgements of people and situations in order to function more quickly. These biases are informed by our background, personal experience and cultural upbringing. Though we all like to believe we are objective, the truth is we often are not. We may try to reject stereotypes about sex, race, sexuality and other characteristics, but frequently our unconscious minds will influence our thoughts and decisions anyway.
We also have positive associations with our ‘in-groups’ and negative associations with our ‘out-groups’. These can lead us to act in a friendlier manner with people who we perceive to be like us.
The Department of Chemistry has introduced UB observers to shortlisting meetings and job interviews. Our aim is to reduce UB at all stages of recruitment and to promote good practice.
In recent years, the impact of UB on recruitment and selection has been demonstrated in various studies. UB observer training has formed an important part of the Department’s equality and diversity strategy.
In 2014, we introduced trained UB observers on academic shortlisting and interview panels. Their role is to listen to and record the decision making process. They then reflect back to the panel any instances of bias. The scheme has since extended to cover all staff recruitment within the Department and recently been trialled in other departments.
Individuals are more likely to see bias in others than themselves.
“Being observed whilst shortlisting 130 candidates down to 5 had a significant impact - in particular by having it pointed out how easily implicit assumptions made by some individuals while rapidly assessing CVs could significantly sway the considered opinion of the panel. The process of being observed made me much more reflective in considering how I personally came to such decisions, and has gone on to influence my ongoing recruitment practice.”- Panel Member
Unconscious bias links:
 C. A. Moss-Racusin et al., PNAS, 2012, 109(41), 16474-16479