Impact of Unconscious Bias on Diversity and Inclusion


I had the great privilege to present an unconscious bias presentation with Judy Elliott-Pugh, SHRM-CP, PHR, MBA.  Judy and I are the Diversity & Inclusion Co-Directors with the Garden State Council-SHRM (GSC-SHRM).  We presented to the North Jersey-Rockland SHRM Chapter.  We wanted to explore unconscious bias by discussing what it is and how we address it in our everyday lives and in our workplaces.

Unconscious bias refers to a bias that we are unaware of, and which happens outside of our control.  It is a bias that happens automatically and is triggered by our brain making quick judgments and assessments of people and situations, influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences. (ECU: 2013 Unconscious bias in higher education)

Some examples of unconscious bias, provided by Insight Education Systems, include:

  • Resumes with ethnic sounding names pushed down in the selection for interviews.
  • A female colleague raises a good point in a meeting with her male and female colleagues. She is subsequently ignored. A male colleague then raises the same point, and is not only acknowledged, but praised as well.

If one were to research unconscious bias further one would see the discussion about micro-indignities, which is linked with micro-inequities and micro-aggressions.  Jonathan Segal, a partner with Duane Morris LLP, wrote a SHRM blog titled, Subtle Bias: Micro-Inequities and Micro-Aggressions.  Segal indicates in his blog that micro-Inequities is a slight that demeans or marginalizes the recipient, such as a leader saying good morning to everyone but one person.  He also states that micro-aggressions is an act that stereotypes or denigrates the recipient, such as stating “You should be good at this”, when addressing the mathematical component of a team exercise to the only Asian American on the team.  

Howard J. Ross, Founder and Chief Learning Officer of Cook Ross Inc., indicates that our knowledge of unconscious bias makes things clear by limiting patterns of unconscious behavior that are not restricted to members of any one group. Ross also specifies that we can manage our unconscious biases by holding ourselves accountable by telling ourselves the truth and by holding others accountable.

We are all in this together and understanding that this phenomenon is at work in all of our brains can help push us forward to awareness, education and subsequently, action!

Two videos that we used in our presentation were:

What Kind of Asian Are You? By Ken Tanaka 

Trailer - I'm Not Racist...Am I? By Point Made Films (We used Chapter 9 - Implicit Bias from the digital course)

The Trusted Ten Exercise was an exercise that we conducted and was well received. 

I would also highly recommend taking the Implicit Association Test (IAT) at no cost where you can test your biases against race, weight, age, etc. Here is the link to the IAT test. 

Diversity & Inclusion, and specifically, unconscious bias, are topics of extreme importance.  While extremely important, discussing the above can be difficult and needs to be carefully addressed.

I want to end by thanking Judy and the North Jersey-Rockland SHRM Chapter for having us present about such an important topic.



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