What is unconscious bias and how do we reduce it?

Geoffrey Williams

Geoffrey Williams, Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Thomson Reuters, explains what unconscious bias is and shares his top tips for managing unconscious bias within the workplace.

Geoffrey is presenting at the CIPD Diversity and Inclusion Conference which takes place on 15 May 2019 in London. Book your ticket today.



Before I explain what you can do to manage unconscious bias in the workplace and also in your day to day life, I felt a good starting point would be to explain what unconscious bias is. Wikipedia defines it as “Unconscious biases are learned stereotypes that are automatic, unintentional, deeply ingrained, universal, and able to influence behaviour.”


As humans, we like to believe that we control all of our decisions. Family, friends, school influence us, media bombards us with images, words and narratives so we have to be mindful and aim to treat everyone we meet as an individual and also with the message your parents may have stated in your youth treat people the way you want to be addressed. So, what do you do differently to make sure that you aren’t falling into the trap of letting your unconscious bias, rule your actions?


I like to give individuals I work with and manage these top six suggestions for work and life:

1. Learn about your preferences by taking Harvard’s implicit bias test, accept what your biases might be and challenge yourself to change. No point in knowing you have a bias and stopping there. You now need to act to manage what your brain is telling you.


2. Continue to learn: most of us feel we know it all after completing our degrees and obtaining our first job, where it comes to stereotyping we need to keep challenging ourselves and put yourself in someone else position. Read, fiction, articles, research by people who don’t look, think or experience life like you.


3. Around work, why not create the role of the neutral observer in your talent discussions. This person’s main objective is to play back the conversations and to challenge where they hear something that falls within the realm of bias. i.e., Sarah is too emotional; Hakim is aggressive; this person will ask the questions what do you mean by those statements and how do they relate to work.


4. Learn from the diverse communities in your business, if you have an Employee Network for your LGBT/BAME, Employees with disabilities, why not take the time to attend one of the events they host. You will learn what it is like to possibly be different at your organisation and externally.


5. Make sure your interviews have a diverse panel and that your job descriptions do not use gender conforming language. Recruitment is the start of the experience for all candidates to make sure that this team truly understands how bias impacts their work and support them to work to remove from their processes diligently.


6. Commit to self-development: Challenging yourself to evolve is key in managing your bias, so after you complete training what is the one thing your will differently?


The subject of diversity and inclusion is not an easy one; it is uncomfortable and will only impact your business if run as a culture program not a bunch of interventions. Bias is discussed routinely, real change as a company and as an individual after learning about this subject will only take place if it is taken seriously and activities to make it stick are implemented. We are struggling to retain attract and promote top talent your culture and community plays a critical point. So why not work on reducing the impacts of bias.


Geoffrey is speaking in the panel discussion titled “Unconscious bias training has made little progress: what are the key lessons learnt in navigating the issue?” at the CIPD Diversity and Inclusion Conference which takes place on 15 May 2019 in London. Book your ticket today.