Part Two: Unconscious Bias podcast

31st March 2015

Part two

Welcome to concluding part of last week’s podcast about Unconscious Bias, featuring Principle Consultant Vernal Scott and Client Relationships Manager Australia, Jude Martin Atuka. In this section, Vernal and Jude continue their discussion about real life examples of unconscious bias and how recognising our own unconscious bias can help to improve decision making and help create a better workplace. To catch up on last week’s transcript click here or listen to the full podcast, click here

Jude: That’s what we’re saying and I think that the reason why I’m sat here today, to be honest with you Vernal, having a conversation with you about Unconscious Bias on a Friday night here in Australia and on Valentine’s day, when I should be sat down with my wife and doing things that I’m not going to speak to you about online is that actually unconscious bias has an impact on everything we do. I think that unconscious bias or the lack of understanding of what it is, is a reason why companies and organisations may not be functioning as much as they should be functioning. You know you go into organisations and I work in an organisation and processes don’t work or don’t talk to each other, systems don’t talk to each other, people don’t talk to each other, people in senior management teams don’t talk to each other, they don’t communicate as they should be communicating and sometimes we have all these leadership development programmes, management development programmes and we invest so much money in trying to sort these things out but actually what needs to be sorted out are the people themselves that need to be able to go into themselves to understand what is the driver, they need to ask why are things not happening despite the investment, despite the huge amount of money that we’ve poured into developing our resources and my argument is, the reason why things are probably aren’t happening the way they should be happening is because we’re not aware that the decisions that we’re making, which are biased, are having a negative impact and that’s why one of the key ways that I tend to advise people in organisations particularly in the workplace to actually make decisions and we’re speaking about decisions here because decisions are the common denominator across organisations but what I tend to advise people is that they should take a step back and ask if they put the decisions that they make through a washing machine; question themselves and question their presuppositions behind those questions as to why they decided, for example in recruitment, to go candidate X as opposed to candidate Y. Am I going for candidate X because candidate X is wearing a red tie that I like as opposed to going for candidate Y who is wearing a black tie? And sometimes it comes down to some very simple things as that; it’s literally very simple things as that.

Vernal: Yes, I mean certainly it sounds then, that looking at equality analysis which is something that we used to do in the context of unconscious bias therefore and this whole washing machine concept which I think is an excellent one, is that people need to examine themselves first I suppose before they even enter into decision making processes, is that what you’re saying?

Jude: Yes, I think one of the ways and not meaning to sort of jump the gun because I think that unconscious bias is a lot to talk about, but I think one of the ways in which they say is the best way to manage unconscious bias is to be able to recognise first of all that you are biased and recognise that everybody is biased and two in organisations, they have to create the atmosphere in organisations where you feel free, where everyone feels free to be able to call it out. Call it out by one of these: So if you see what you think is a conscious bias in your policies, in your processes, it’s to be able to say actually I think that is a form of unconscious bias and it’s this particular type of unconscious bias that I think is acting here, how do we manage it?

Vernal: Yes and do you think though that it’s possible for one person or for a few people in an organisation to be aware of unconscious bias and that the whole organisation gets the message or does everybody in a decision making role in an organisation have to be part of if you like some sort of training perhaps on the issue.

Jude: Well I think it comes back down to what you mentioned before when you said to me, do I think that unconscious bias is an equality and diversity specific type area and when I said to you, actually I don’t think it is. I think that unconscious bias obviously does have something to do with our diversity and our experiences so in that sense it is related to diversity and equality but I think it goes way beyond that, I think it’s about management. I think unconscious bias is about becoming a good and effective manager. Managers make decisions and if all human beings have biases which we all do, by implication therefore its logical to say that being aware of unconscious bias is a requirement of anybody in management; firstly of anyone in management because they make decisions that impact everyone else but ultimately it’s a requirement of everybody in organisations.

Vernal: Right, that makes perfect sense to me. So if we’re accepting then that unconscious bias sits in an umbrella position, you know a macro position in an organisation in the way of processes and decision-making processes, does equality and diversity stay where it was originally in the way of its own area or does it relate in any way do you think?

Jude: Vernal, when I was in the UK I worked as a diversity consultant for a very big consortia in the UK and one of the things about diversity which I always struggled with was the fact that diversity talks about not wanting to be pigeon holed, it talks about trying to remove people out of boxes and that kind of stuff, but actually what frustrated me about diversity was the fact that it always pigeon holed itself. In trying to get itself out of the box actually it put itself into a box and that frustrated me so much and I think that actually this topic on unconscious bias, whilst on the one hand it might have come to prominence through the strives and the struggles of diversity consultants who were trying to understand why managers and decision makers in organisations, whilst they might have appeared to be proponents of diversity strategies actually in practise weren’t pushing it, and so diversity consultants began to ask themselves, what is going on? What is it that we’re not doing? When it wasn’t something that they weren’t doing; what it was, was that diversity had sort of put itself into a box that it hadn’t quite been able to think outside the box to say actually, the problem we’re facing is a problem of decision making ability which actually transcends diversity. it’s about organisational processes, it’s about people.

Vernal: So it sounds like you’re saying it’s about the performance element of an organisation and the processes formed effectively to get outcomes that are the best possible outcomes for an organisation, so the whole unconscious bias initiative would be a performance tool by the sounds of what you’re saying.

Jude: That’s absolutely right; I feel that David Cameron Prime minister should go for unconscious bias training, I think anybody who is in a decision making capacity should at least understand what unconscious bias is and the impact it can have on their decision making. I think anybody who is in a leadership position whether they’re bought into the diversity initiatives or not, should go through an understanding of what unconscious bias is. That’s what I think.

Vernal: I guess then what we’re saying in essence is that if you are going to be making decisions, you’re going to be in a position of leadership and that there are some real benefits to be gained by unconscious bias awareness. I think that’s really quite fascinating and as I say I’m having my own conversations about it and what I find is the best way to sort of sum it up is that the biases we have as you say we’re all bias and the biases are simply preferences of things that we like and things that we like less. I suppose it’s when we make assumptions based upon those preferences that difficulties arise but what we don’t want is for people to imagine that having biases is somehow wrong because we all have them. But what I’d try and say in my conversations is, it’s good to have biases but be aware that you have them and be aware of the part that they might play subliminally in the way that you live your life and in the decisions you make about yourself and other people both at work and socially etc. What do you think?

Jude: I think you’re absolutely right and I think maybe the best way to end this conversation so that our viewers can actually think about why I’m sat here today having a conversation with you when I should be doing something with my wife on Valentine’s Day drinking a glass of wine…

Vernal: Thinking of the sort of benefits, your wife might be quite pleased you’re having a conversation on Unconscious Bias

Jude: Exactly, but what I was going to say was there is research that shows that at any given time human beings have to deal with about 11 million stimuli, 11 million sensation elements every single second of their lives and research shows of that 11 million; human beings are only able to process 40 at any given time. We’re only able to process 40 stimuli of the 11 million that we have to deal with, the remaining 10 million bla bla bla we actually delegate to shortcuts because we can’t deal with that many and we base our decisions on those shortcuts which don’t have any real premise, and to me that really sums up the issue of unconscious bias. When we make decisions and we think that those decisions are intuitively rational, actually if we took a step back we would realise that they’re not. They’re not rationale. Blonde people are less intelligent then brunettes, women laugh about that but actually in a recruitment process sometimes I know for a fact that Managers may not hire a blonde because they feel that they are less intelligent than a brunette. It’s a reality and I think as insane as it sounds that’s the world that we live in and the reason why you and I are sat here today talking about unconscious bias is because we really want to start beginning to raise this in the minds of our listeners and in the minds of those in decision making capacities in the workplace to want to say actually the decisions that we make, the insane decisions that we make have a tremendous impact on an organisations bottom line, and more importantly on the people who actually work for us.

Vernal: Absolutely, the decisions dictate outcomes and whether those are conscious decisions or unconscious decisions they deliver an impact on the outcome. I’ve enjoyed talking to you and I know it’s valentine’s day and I’m going to let you go to get back to your wife and I’m going to find perhaps a partner for myself on ebay or somewhere like that, but thank you Jude for your time and I’m glad that we’ve had this conversation and I know we’re going to have other conversations as well which I’m really looking forward to. Thank you very much.

Jude: Cheers Vernal. I’ll speak to you soon. Looking forward to next time round

Vernal: Take care

Jude: Bye

Outro: Thanks for listening to our first talking Unconscious Bias podcast. If you would like to learn more about our Unconscious Bias training please visit

If you would like to continue talking unconscious bias, you can post your questions or comments on our facebook page, tweet us @MarshallACM or #macmUB or you could email us at

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