Whole Person to Whole Team
Unconscious bias is a type of judgement and cognitive shortcut that we make without question or conscious control. It’s a reality that can lead to a variety of negative outcomes, from subtle exclusion to outright discrimination.
Unconscious bias is especially relevant to coaching, as coaches often need to make decisions that are influenced by their own biases. Coaches must be aware of any potential biases in order to make the best decisions for their clients and teams. In addition, coaches must also know how to detect and address any biases in others. By recognising the presence of unconscious bias, coaches can create an environment where everyone can feel welcome and respected.
Read on to discover this Guide and you will learn how to apply 5 simple steps to minimise your unconscious biases impact upon your client.
Through awareness and understanding we can learn how to minimise unconscious biases in our day-to-day lives. By being mindful of our own biases as well as those around us, we can promote better decision making and create more inclusive environments for everyone.
Coaching also involves providing guidance and support to individuals or teams so they can reach their goals. Unconscious bias has a direct impact on this process as it can lead to misunderstandings or unfair treatment of certain individuals or groups. Understanding unconscious bias will help coaches create more inclusive environments for all participants to feel comfortable and accepted.
Awareness of our own unconscious biases is critical for personal development in coaching. By being mindful as a coach of your own prejudices so that you don’t inadvertently influence decisions or send out unintentional cues that may have a negative impact on team or clients. Being aware of institutionalised forms of bias such as racism or sexism is essential when addressing difficult topics with clients or teammates during the coaching process.
The first step in reducing unconscious bias is to recognise that it exists and that it has a powerful influence on our decisions. Unconscious biases are usually hidden from our conscious awareness, so we must be willing to acknowledge their existence before we can begin to work on minimising them. In order to do this, it is important that we remain humble and accept that we may not be aware of all of our biases. Here are some of the more common biases:
- Implicit Bias – This type of bias is formed without conscious awareness and can be difficult to recognise. It often manifests subconsciously through snap judgments or stereotypes. Examples include gender bias, ageism, racism, homophobia, and physical appearance bias.
- Confirmation Bias – This occurs when we give preference to information that confirms our pre-existing beliefs or views while disregarding opposing data or facts that contradict them. We often overlook evidence that may prove us wrong due to this bias.
- Affect Heuristic – Often referred to as the “liking/disliking” effect, this is a cognitive shortcut when making decisions where people tend to favour those they like (or dislike) rather than considering objective facts or data related to the decision at hand.
- Availability Bias – People’s tendency to base their decisions on what comes most easily and quickly into their minds; for example relying heavily on news stories or media headlines which limits our ability to make an informed decision about an issue at hand.
- Groupthink – This phenomenon happens when members of a group prioritise harmony over accuracy in decision-making processes by avoiding open conflict critical thinking in order to reach consensus among all members quickly without any disagreements being aired out openly before making a decision together as one unit.
- Priming- Priming is one way in which people’s unconscious biases can be triggered – this involves the exposure to certain cues and stimuli which are associated with particular beliefs or stereotypes.
Baghurst, Clement and Burrows (1996) study highlighted how priming can effect behaviour. In this experiment, participants were exposed to words associated with elderly people such as “Florida”, “walking stick” and “Bingo”. When they were then asked to walk down the corridor to an elevator, those who had been primed with elderly-related words demonstrated slower average walking speeds than the control group. This suggests that even subtle cues can influence our behaviour without us being aware of it.
Priming can have significant implications in workplace contexts – it is often linked to discrimination based on gender, race or other identity markers. For instance, studies suggest that priming individuals with female-associated terms such as ‘cooperative’ and ‘warm’ may lead them to give lower performance ratings for female candidates than male ones; conversely, when primed with masculine-associated terms such as ‘competitive’ and ‘assertive’ the opposite may occur (Diekman & Eagly 2008). This highlights how important it is for employers to be aware of potential biases when making hiring decisions.
Unconscious bias coaching has become an increasingly popular way for organisations to challenge their employees’ hidden assumptions about others – helping them become more self-aware about their own prejudices.
The second step is to practise non-judgmental thinking when considering different perspectives and possibilities. This will help us recognise when an unconscious bias could be driving our decisions or behaviours. It is also important to remember that while unconscious biases cannot be eliminated, they can be managed and minimised with the right approach.
Practising non-judgement when it comes to decision making can be an effective way to minimise unconscious bias. Non judgement involves listening without judging, being open to different ideas and perspectives and not assuming that you know the ‘right’ answer. Coaches and leaders can then recognise the potential for unconscious bias in their work and assess their own thought processes objectively, so that decisions are made with greater awareness and fairness.
Promoting a culture of open dialogue and debate can help mitigate the effects of groupthink; encouraging people to provide dissenting opinions or share alternative perspectives can help ensure that all voices are heard in decision making processes.
In order to successfully minimise the impact of unconscious bias in our workplaces, we can prioritise creating an environment of trust and respect where everyone feels safe expressing their thoughts and opinions openly without fear of judgement.
It is also important to remember that while these mental shortcuts exist within us all, they do not have to dictate how we make decisions or act towards others – by practising non judgement we can develop a deeper understanding of ourselves and be more aware of our own biases when interacting with others.
This will lead us closer towards achieving greater equity in our organisations by ensuring that everyone has access to fair representation, opportunities and resources regardless of race, gender or other identity markers affected by these mental shortcuts which often go overlooked in decision making contexts.
Unconscious bias education is an important step in minimising the impact of bias within organisations and teams. Even when we think that our decisions are based on facts, we can still succumb to biased thinking. By educating employees on unconscious bias, organisations can equip teams with the knowledge and understanding needed to make better decisions and foster a more equitable working environment.
Studies have shown that unconscious bias education can significantly reduce the expression of biases in decision-making processes. For instance, a study by Gebauer et al (2020) found that after attending a two-hour workshop on implicit biases, participants were more aware of their own biases and had better strategies for reducing their impact in decision-making scenarios. Similarly, another study by Kolesarova et al (2019) showed that unconscious bias training had a positive effect on organisational culture and reduced the occurrence of inappropriate behaviour or language in the workplace.
By investing in unconscious bias education, organisations can not only reduce its impact on decision-making but also promote an open and productive workplace where everyone feels valued and respected. This can lead to improved relations between colleagues, increased creativity in problem solving, higher job satisfaction levels, better recruitment processes — all key factors for achieving success in today’s competitive landscape.
The fourth step is to take actionable steps towards minimising the impact of unconscious bias on decision-making processes within organisations. This might include introducing measures such as blind recruitment practices or introducing diversity schemes which promote equality in the workplace. It could also involve actively challenging biased assumptions or beliefs in order to create a more inclusive working environment.
Unconscious bias can negatively impact the workplace and hinder employees from reaching their full potential. However, by implementing action steps to minimise unconscious bias, companies have an opportunity to create an environment of fairness, respect and diversity.
One of the most effective ways to limit unconscious bias is through diversity schemes. Diversity schemes are initiatives that focus on recruiting and promoting individuals from various backgrounds, such as those from different genders, cultures or age groups. According to a study conducted by Harvard Business Review in 2020, diversity schemes can lead to a higher representation of minorities in management positions and “reduce gender bias among coworkers”. Furthermore, research published in 2019 found that companies with more diverse teams had 48% fewer errors during decision-making processes than those without diversity initiatives
In addition to diversity schemes, organisations should also consider introducing strategies such as mandatory training sessions or anonymous interviewing practices in order to reduce any potential biases during recruitment processes.
Companies should also ensure they foster an environment where employees feel comfortable expressing their ideas without fear of any repercussions. By making these changes, organisations can help ensure everyone has equal opportunities and prevent any discrimination or prejudice against any particular group of people.
Overall, there are a variety of action steps businesses can take to minimise unconscious bias within their organisation. With the right strategy in place, businesses will not only be able to reduce any type of discrimination but also enhance productivity and improve team morale at work.
Using reflective practice is one way to reduce these biases and create an inclusive and equitable workplace. Reflective practice involves taking time to reflect on one’s own thoughts, beliefs, actions, and values and how they may affect their decision-making. By engaging in this process, individuals can become more aware of their own unconscious bias and thereby work to eliminate them.
One study has found that reflective practice is particularly effective at reducing gender bias. The study involved two groups of participants who were asked to assess job applicants based on their CV alone. One group was given the opportunity for reflection before making a judgement, while the other was given no such opportunity. Those who reflected prior to making judgements had significantly lower levels of gender bias than those who did not engage in reflection. This suggests that taking time to reflect can help people become more aware of their own biases and allow them to make fairer decisions about job applicants regardless of gender or other demographic factors.
Another study found that engaging in reflective practice helps create a culture within organisations where unconscious bias can be minimised. The study surveyed leaders within a wide range of organisations from different countries around the world which used various forms of reflective practice as part of their management strategies. Results showed that when leaders engaged regularly in reflective practices there was greater acceptance by employees of diversity initiatives such as equal representation across genders, ethnicities, education levels and backgrounds – all indicators that unconscious biases were being reduced within those organisations.
When leaders encourage regular use of reflective practices this creates a culture where unconscious bias is minimised allowing for greater acceptance by employees towards initiatives focusing on diversity within organisations.
By recognising and taking steps to minimise unconscious bias in our organisations and places of work through acknowledging that we have them, education, non-judgmental attitudes, actionable measures and reflective practice, individuals can become more aware of their own biases and be better equipped to handle them. This will contribute towards creating cultures where these principles are embedded into our daily interactions with colleagues and clients alike. By approaching conversations with an open mind and actively challenging any prejudices or stereotypes, everyone has the potential to create positive change in regards to unconscious bias within organisations. Implementing a coaching culture can help to bring about that change.
Baghurst T., Clement R., & Burrows L., 1996. The Effects Of Priming On Judgments Of The Elderly: An Experimental Study Of Ageism And Stereotyping In Australian Society.. Aging & Mental Health [online]. Available at:
Diekman A., & Eagly A., 2008 Stereotypes As Dynamic Constructs: Women And Men Of The Past, Present And Future,. Psychological Science [online]. Available at:
Hunter R., 2020 How Businesses Can Use Unconscious Bias Coaching To Address Diversity Within The Workplace [online]. Available at: