NEWS / ACE News / Tackling our unconscious bias

ACE News

01 JUL 2020


ACE Emerging Professionals’ Emily Scoones revisits last year’s thought-provoking event.

Unconscious bias affects us all. An automatic response of our brain is to make quick judgements on people and situations influenced by our own experience. However, this response is also compromising diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Last year we hosted an event with a group of ACE Emerging Professionals to learn all about this.

Alex Lawrence, Director and Head of Talent and Inclusion at Ramboll, introduced the audience to unconscious bias. In a nutshell, a topic which underlies diversity of all kinds, from race, sexuality, gender to age, education and status. She was supported by Dan Robertson, an expert on workplace inclusion, unconscious bias and inclusive leadership. He explained the science behind how our brains are wired to categorise, and from our experiences and environment that categorisation becomes layered with judgement. This, in combination with the fact our unconscious brain has around two hundred thousand times the processing power of the conscious brain, can often lead to instant stereotypes, prejudices and inequality.

To highlight this the attendees were then asked to undertake two exercises. The first was a quick fire of three questions in two rounds. The first time they were asked to write down their instant answer and were given no time before the next question. The second time they were given time to think and consider the question… Try it now for yourself!

• A bat and a ball cost £1 and 10 pence, if the bat cost £1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?
• If it takes 5 machines 5 minutes to make 5 widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets?
• In a lake, there is a patch of lily pads. Every day, the patch doubles in size.

If it takes 48 days for the patch to cover the entire lake, how long would it take for the patch to cover half of the lake?
The questions were designed to show how your brain thinks quickly, based off your experiences, but doesn’t necessarily give you the correct answer. This you can get to if you give yourself time to consider the question. Most people’s first set of answers to the questions above are often 10p, 100 minutes and 24 days respectively, but when considered is 5p, 5 minutes and 47 days.

Participants were then asked to write out ten people they trusted, excluding family, on a folded piece of paper. They then unfolded the paper to reveal a series of categorisations, such as gender, age, educational background and sexuality. By categorising your trusted ten, it often highlights that the group of people you trust the most, is the least diverse and most like you. Now imagine you are giving people tasks to undertake or an opportunity in the workplace. You will more likely chose people who have reached a certain level of trust. What is going to happen teams if this is the case, they are more likely to become less diverse and be filled with people who think similarly to yourself.

This led on to an insightful discussion between the emerging professionals, Alex, Dan, and Gary Morris, a Director at WYG who was invited to share the journey WYG are taking towards inclusivity. The discussion focussed on what individuals and companies can do to increase awareness and combat unconscious bias. Gary and Alex highlighted the great work their companies are doing to increase diversity within their companies, from encouraging schemes and events, such as Pride, BAME and gender equality, to ensuring gender neutral wording on websites. By combining diversity promotion with inclusion events, they are now seeing the benefits of more diverse teams to the individual, their companies and the industry. Dan noted how BCG have recently published research into how diversity and inclusion has a positive correlation with innovation which is a clear benefit alongside happier, more productive people.

Dan also gave insightful ideas into how an individual can combat their own bias. Firstly, he advised to get tested, to ensure you are aware of your own bias, then act on that through changing your habits and who you surround yourself with. For example, take a different route to work, sit next to different people and really take notice of those who fall into the categories that you are negatively biased towards.

The panel finished the session by fielding some tough questions around positive discrimination, the industry culture and hiring process. They were in resound agreement that every job or opportunity should be given to the right person for said job, and that those in the industry needed to be more aware of their bias to ensure it was not changing the way they acted or viewed people when hiring or promoting candidates, but also with how they treated others in the workplace.

With the shocking statistic from the World Economic Forum that there is still over 200 years until gender parity and equality of all types, it is paramount that the industry and individuals look to understand their own bias and actively take measures to combat it. Why not start now by undertaking the trusted ten exercise or a Harvard Implicit Test, today?

ACE previously published a report on a cross-industry reverse mentoring pilot. Read more about it here, or download it below.


Transforming the workplace: Piloting reverse mentoring

June 2018

ACE report into Emerging Professional cross-industry pilot.