4 min read

The Unconscious Bias Battle

“When diverse teams come together they learn, they share perspectives and they challenge each other and grow. Simple, right?” - Tali Shlomo
Share on linkedin
Share on twitter
Share on facebook

“When diverse teams come together they learn, they share perspectives and they challenge each other and grow. Simple, right?” – Tali Shlomo

After hosting a session at CIPD’s annual D&I conference and getting fantastic engagement, our founder, Romanie Thomas decided to host a part two alongside Tali Shlomo, Andrew Marckino and Cynthia Fortlage to dive into the unconscious bias battle and where small businesses should focus their budget and efforts to improve diversity and inclusion.

We summarised the key takeaways for you below.

We are all biased

“We are all biased, I’m biased, you’re biased and we go through life with these biases” – Andrew Marcinko, Assistant Professor, Behavioural Science, Durham University

Unfortunately, no-one is exempt from having biases so please call out anyone who makes such outdated claims.

As Andrew explained in our session, we can only consciously process a finite amount of information and therefore in all facets of our lives we rely on a form of ‘automated processing’ which in turn results in biases, stereotypes and schemas. On the one hand this is necessary – in order to interact with people and process the abundance of information we are now exposed to everyday.

The downside of this information automation is that it means we all make mistakes – which is what bias ultimately is. Bias is when we make decisions based on snap judgements that don’t follow logic, and these judgements often lead to a prejudicial outcome when it comes to making key decisions.

Outdated language

How does language fuel unconscious biases? 

Cynthia explored the impact that language can have on gender identity and in her experience most businesses are still largely aware of this. One example she gave is that ‘Hi guys’ is still frequently used in a business context despite the fact that it is a gendered greeting, and not inclusive to the LGBTQ+ community. Leaders should ensure they open meetings with neutral language such as ‘Hi folks’ or ‘Hi everyone’ which sounds simple but already means you’re heading in the right direction.

Secondly, we explored the need for the continued use of gendered titles (Mr/ Mrs)?

Do we actually need to know whether a candidate is a Mr or Mrs when they apply for a role at our company for example? 

Here at Juggle we anonymise candidate data until the interview stage to reduce unconscious bias, and we recommend organisations adopt a similar approach whenever possible.

What is the deal with unconscious bias training?

Understanding the conscious decisions we make vs the unconscious is like using a muscle – thought around it needs to be constantly exercised.

We all constantly need to be challenging ourselves, our teams and our leadership (respectfully of course) to improve diversity, equality and inclusion.

Unconscious bias training isn’t a one-size fits all answer and Andrew explained that there’s no evidence that what we commonly call unconscious bias leads to lasting behavioural change. 


No trainer can stand in front of an audience for an hour and ‘cure bias’ This can never be a checkbox to tick and move on, we need to set up systems and structures to help prevent biases. 

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t invest in training, it does have a place as a smaller element in a wider DEI programme.

“Having one hour’s unconscious bias training isn’t going to mitigate or cure bias, but it does start the conversation and there is value in that”. – Tali Shlomo, D&I Consultant, Swiss RE

Start by opening up discussions with your teams and ask for feedback – how do they think you can improve your efforts? You are going to gain much more value from investing in feedback first before spending precious budget on a cookie-cutter approach.

Culture add vs culture fit

Every organisation has a culture. The question is – is it the one you want? 

“Culture fit doesn’t exist. Your culture should be accommodating to everyone from all backgrounds and inclusive or you don’t have the right culture” – Phil Ellis, CEO, Beryl

The concept of ‘culture fit’ has received a fair amount of negative attention recently and has become associated with companies wanting to hire candidates who are ‘just like them’ – which further entrenches bias. 

Leaders need to reframe this concept and Tali suggested ‘culture add’ better articulates what we should be trying to achieve.

Culture add means that you have identified a gap or skill-set that you are lacking, and you recognise that and want to hire intentionally for it – someone that is different to you, looks different, talks differently and brings a fresh perspective.

There are large swathes of evidence now demonstrating that diverse teams always outperform homogenous ones.

Listen, don’t talk

Our top takeaway for leaders is to listen, don’t talk.

You need to be accountable to bringing your teams together regularly and having brutally honest conversations about where you are in your D&I efforts, and where you need to improve.

These conversations can be uncomfortable, but that just means we’re putting ourselves outside of our comfort zone which is a good thing.

Seek as much input as you can for decisions and remember the fastest decision is not always the right one

One perspective will always be one-dimensional and even if it takes longer to seek input there is a much greater likelihood that you will reach a more measured outcome.

Sign up to Juggle for free today to get access to a diverse pool of candidates within 24 hours.

Mya Ramanan

Get Modern Leadership delivered

Practical insights into careers and the future of work