5 Myths About Unconscious Bias

myth-truth-bannerThere’s no denying it, unconscious bias is trendy. It’s so trendy, it’s even become an acronym, known affectionately as “UB.” But as often occurs when a term or concept becomes common or mainstream, it is surrounded by myths and misinformation:

Myth 1: We don’t need to worry any more about conscious bias or bigotry. We are not “post-racial.” Individual acts of verbal, physical and emotional violence against people due to their real or perceived group membership are still relatively common.

Myth 2: I don’t have any unconscious biases. It’s frightening to think we may not be 100 percent aware or in control of what we think and do. But brain science shows that if you’re a human being, your brain operates through biases. Homo sapiens evolved to constantly and unconsciously make immediate decisions based on limited data and pre-existing patterns. We are descended from the more skittish members of our species, so we’re hypersensitive to anything the old parts of our brain deem dangerous. Biases have thus served us for eons, and continue to do so, but are not effective in helping us interact effectively with diverse humans in today’s workplace. Bias elimination is not only ineffective, it’s impossible — the focus should be on bias reduction (see myth 5), choosing behaviours more mindfully, and mitigating any negative impacts of those behaviours.

Myth 3: I know what my unconscious biases are. By definition, UB is — well — unconscious. You may have a sense of what some are, but be blind to others. Keep in mind that our UB can often conflict with our conscious beliefs and values, and we may even hold negative UB against our own group! Rather than deny our own unconscious biases, we can be curious about where they come from – and how they get so ingrained in our minds despite our good intentions – and be more mindful of our actions. Unconscious biases only become problematic when they manifest in ineffective behaviours.

Myth 4: Hooray! Since everyone’s biased, we can move on from that tired conversation about racism/sexism, etc! Although everyone’s biased, biases are not equal in their impact at a group level. Negative bias held by a numerical majority or power-dominant group have a disproportionate ability to do harm to numerical minorities or power non-dominant groups.

Myth 5: Since UB is unconscious, there’s nothing I can do about it. Mitigating the effect of negative bias in management processes and hiring practices starts through building awareness with initial UB training, followed by calibration and development of techniques to facilitate effective behaviour change. This then needs to be embraced and communicated across the business through embedding techniques to ensure a permanent culture change across the business.


Angela Peacock is the dynamic Chair of the People Development Team, an award-winning global training organisation, specialising in leading-edge virtual delivery.

If you’d like to know more about how PDT’s highly engaging suite of unconscious bias programmes can help you to achieve your business strategy, please visit us at www.pdtglobal.com or email us at info@pdtglobal.com.