We are increasingly becoming aware of the potential effects of implicit or unconscious bias on our everyday behaviour. Work in behavioural economics on influences on decision-making, in particular, has highlighted how our efforts to be objective and unbiased can be subverted by assumptions and beliefs about which we may be unaware, but which can distort our judgements.

One area in which unconscious biases can be particularly influential is in recruitment and selection.

“Fair” recruitment and selection procedures are designed to ensure that recruiters make objective judgements about job applicants’ suitability to fill vacancies by assessing them against selection criteria related to the requirements of the job. The aim is to disregard irrelevant factors such as the gender or ethnic origin of each individual in making the comparisons to identify the most suitable person for the job.

Unfortunately, failure to address the potential for unconscious bias can undermine our best intentions and rather than being objective assessments, our decisions may favour or disadvantage individual candidates because of the positive or negative biases in our thinking.

Unconscious bias can also influence behaviour towards members of staff after recruitment. This can be reflected in day to day management, appraisals, who gets promotion, etc.

In our Unconscious Bias Training for Recruiters/Selection and Unconscious Bias Training for Managers, we identify how and where unconscious bias may be evident, exploring potential effects in participants’ areas of responsibility and review how we can minimise these potential effects.


While research has shown that the average GCSE results of pupils from most black and minority [BAME] ethnic groups are as good as or better than those of their white peers, a significant attainment gap persists in Higher Education with students from BAME backgrounds less likely to be awarded a ‘good degree’ [first or upper second] . When prior qualifications are taken into account the BAME students are still getting lower proportions of good degrees so this gap appears to be due to BAME under-achievement [i.e. performing at a lower than expected level] rather than a simple reflection of ability.

A recent major research programme across a number of universities highlighted the importance of a college organizational culture that fosters a sense of ‘belonging’ in all of their students. An ‘inclusive’ university culture will support the retention and attainment of the increasingly diverse student population. Universities are recognizing the need to move away from a ‘deficit model’ explanation of BAME students’ relatively low attainment towards an approach focused on organizational culture change.

We have worked with UK universities to advise them on how research evidence on the factors affecting attainment can be applied to improve the educational experience of their students.

There appears to be a lacuna in many university intervention programmes: the teaching and learning process in the classroom. There is evidence that the implicit beliefs and assumptions of teachers and students can effectively depress the performance of different groups of students within a class.

We address this omission in our interactive workshops with universities’ academic and professional staff, during which we highlight the implicit or unconscious processes that can undermine teaching and learning in diverse student groups and explore how their negative effects can be avoided. We give special attention to evidence on the effects of beliefs about the nature of intelligence and intellectual development [“mindset” ], the effects of negative stereotyping on learning and performance [“stereotype threat” ], as well as other processes such as how we explain the behaviour of others [“attribution theory”].

Without attention to these dynamics within the classroom, we are unlikely to completely close the ethnicity attainment gap as the teachers’ (unconscious) behaviours that we highlight are likely to continue to interfere with the BAME students’ ability to learn.


Each year, our Director Dr Marie Stewart is one of the judges for the Race for Opportunity Awards from Business in the Community. These awards are given to public and private sector organizations that have demonstrated leadership and innovation in developing programmes to promote racial equality and gain the benefits of diversity.

Highlights of the 2012 Dinner can be seen here.


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