Unconscious Bias – knowing isn’t enough

stilleto heel

Unconscious bias is a snap decision based on instinct – it takes 30 milliseconds to make a decision based on someone and this has a huge influence on how we respond to people.

We categorise people based on past experiences with similar groups and we use these categories to prejudge people. 

Our biases are formed by what we have seen, heard and absorbed throughout our lives, influenced by strong role models. 

Unconscious bias affects many people in all ways, across all walks of life, but this blog is going to focus on the unconscious bias that still exists against 50% of the population – women.   

Oh, no I hear you groan, not that topic again, well yes, that topic again, because whilst some progress has been made, it’s snail pace and quite frankly not good enough and sometimes we don’t help ourselves, but more about that later.

Feminism has not been around that long.   It’s easy to forget that the contraceptive pill was only available to women through the NHS in 1960.  This was a step change in society, giving women freedom to choose when to marry, to have children (or not) access further education and to be able to plan a career.  

In 1960, 38% of women were in the workforce.   But how much progress have women made in the equality stakes since then?   Well here’s some facts taken from the BITC Opportunity Now report:

  • 47% of the UK workforce are women
  • 4% is the median full time pay gap between men and women.
  • For every £1 earned by a man a woman earns 81p.
  • 1 in 10 women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.
  • There are 2.11 million men and 5.85 million women in part-time employment.
  • 69% of women say society expects women to put family before their career.

And with the recent news reports of women facing sexist dress codes at work, it may look like we’re going backwards.

So, what can we do about it?   

There has been a huge investment by businesses educating employees on the matter of  unconscious bias and making diversity and inclusion a key part of their employer value proposition.   But education isn’t enough.    Recent research conduction by Melisa Thomas-Hunt and Santos Carlos shows that it can have the opposite effect.

In their experiments, they told some people that stereotyping was rare and told others it was common.

Afterwards, they asked for the participant’s opinion of women.

Those told stereotyping was common, rated women as less career-oriented and more family-oriented.

There is no silver bullet to reduce unconscious or conscious biases in our workplace.    Legislation has removed the legal inequalities but the cultural journey is harder to tackle and more complex.  But there are things that we,  women  across the world can do for ourselves and each other, which when added together may make some cultural changes :

  • We can stop discounting ourselves as candidates for more challenging roles or promotion. Most women will only apply for a role if we meet 100% of the criteria.      Men will apply for a more challenging role if they meet 60% of the criteria!
  • We can start to rewrite our limiting beliefs, stop the negative, damaging self-talk and replace it with positive talk about our strengths and achievements following these simple 5 steps:
  1. Identify what triggers your limiting beliefs
  2. Articulate how they make you feel and the consequence of harbouring these limiting beliefs
  3. Dispute your limiting beliefs, how do you know this to be true?
  4. Take positive steps to rewrite your story…..;.
  5. Be more self-aware, identify your strengths and motivational drivers. (profiling tools such as Strengthsfinder, Realise 2 or Predictive Indicator) are very helpful)
  • We should accept and cherish compliments, don’t brush them aside, reduce them or apologise for doing something well or looking great.


  • We should work as a community and support each other. The women’s march on the 21st January was a great show of solidarity with an estimated 2 million women (and men) turning out across the globe after the inauguration of President Trump.
  • We need to find  solid role models and if you can’t find one then create your own vision of great authentic leadership.
  • We should form a posse, a group of like-minded women and celebrate each other’s successes, this softens self-promoting behaviour and amplifies our strengths.
  • We need to get our voices heard,  by working with other women in our organisations to amplify each other’s ideas or key points, whilst giving the author credit.

We have all felt the impact of  unconscious or conscious bias at some point in time and we know it is damaging, it limits creativity, diversity and reduces balance in our society.   If you need any  support in  your own personal effectiveness or if your business  needs  a creative approach to  unconscious bias, then get in touch, we’d love to work with you.