Unconscious bias affects us all. Whilst most people would say they’re open minded, due to our deep seated biases we unconsciously tend to like people who are similar to us, those who look like us and come from similar backgrounds; people who you can naturally relate to because they are like you. Unconscious bias is built into us as a survival mechanism, allowing us to process information quickly and make decisions when it comes to fight or flight. In that respect, it’s absolutely a positive trait.
However, in the business world unconscious bias can lead to decisions being made that are not fully considered. Research shows that diversity at the top level benefits organisations financially, encourages innovation and improves staff morale; however unconscious bias may lead people to recruit in their own image, thereby excluding different sets of behaviours and values that could otherwise benefit an organisation.
BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, is working to educate members of Boards and Committees in unconscious bias with the aim of changing cultures and attitudes and ultimately break down barriers to a more diverse leadership in our groups. Between November 2012 and September 2013, the Institute ran 11 Unconscious Bias workshops for members of centrally reporting Boards and Committees, training our volunteers about unconscious bias in all aspects of diversity; race, LBGT+Q, age, obesity, disability and gender.
The programme has now moved into a second phase and will be reaching out to our branch and specialist group network across the country. Through our membership of the Engineering Diversity Concordat, we have been awarded funding to develop these training materials as a transferable model for uptake by the other signatory professional bodies.