Unconscious bias in the workplace
July 20, 2017

Valentina Simonetti, Manager


Last Thursday, as part of an ISACA – ACS – IIA Young Professional Event sponsored by Synergy, our very own Michelle Austin presented on the topic ‘Unconscious bias in the workplace’.

It was a fantastic presentation which left me with several key takeaway messages.

An interesting fact is that unconscious bias exists in every one of us. It is a biological efficiency function to churn through millions of bits of information that our brains process in any given second.

Our brains look for patterns and similarities, with outliers and complexities more likely to be discarded or ignored.

Unconscious bias can be a positive thing – it can allow us to react quickly and prevents our brains from over tiring.

It can also be negative in that we jump to conclusions, and stick to our preconceived notions without taking the time to understand, process and accept new information or other factors that can be considered.

There are many types of bias, but the five main ones we explored in groups were:

  • Confirmation bias – the tendency to search for, interpret, favour and recall information in a way that confirms our pre-existing beliefs or hypotheses
  • In-group bias – the tendency to like people who are similar to us and treat them more favourably than the out-group
  • Sunk cost fallacy – wanting to not abandon something we have invested in
  • Halo effect – our overall impression of something influences our feelings about components of it
  • Groupthink – the desire to fit into a group and not create conflict

Insightful and relevant examples of these types of bias were provided by groups, as well as how to mitigate them through how we approach our work and engage with others.

At the end of the presentation, we used MentiMeter (a real time voting system) to submit ways to mitigate negative unconscious bias. Some examples we came up with were:

  • To create structures and processes to side-step bias in the workplace (e.g. resume screening)
  • Invite someone different to coffee
  • Be self-aware
  • Be aware of what fun means to different people
  • Increase cultural awareness in teams (e.g. attend cultural events with colleagues)
  • Conduct team building activities and rotate teams
  • Be aware of forming cliques; be inclusive.

Congratulations to Synergites Elyn Lee, the Young Professional Ambassador for ISACA Canberra Chapter, who organised this memorable and interesting event, and Michelle for such an engaging presentation.