Overcoming unconscious bias and implicit associations

While in many cases unconscious bias awareness training may result in insightful discussions, behaviour change may not occur or may only be short term. Additionally with some people, awareness raising may actually unintentionally encourage more biased thinking and behaviours. Also, by hearing that others are biased and it’s ‘natural’ to hold stereotypes, some people may feel less motivated to change their biases (14, 15).

Moving beyond awareness of unconscious bias and implicit associations to long-term bias reversal and inclusive behaviours requires changes in organisational practices plus practical interventions to address personal biases and creation of new positive behaviours and pro-active approaches to working with people who are ‘different’ from the majority group. For example see references (16, 17, 18, 19, 20).

Strategies to assist

Teams and work groups

  • Value the contributions diverse work groups and decision making teams bring to the group.
  • Recognise collective goals and cooperative activities help break down stereotypes of diverse groups.
  • Manage group participation to ensure equity of all members, e.g.; Use ‘brain writing’ (instead of verbal brainstorming) where group members write down their ideas first before sharing them – ensures all ideas get heard and prevents anchoring or a few people dominating.
  • Consider bringing in an independent viewpoint for a fresh perspective, particularly if you want to avoid group think.
  • Acknowledge and appreciate a team member who takes a risk, offers a new idea, asks questions etc., especially where the team member is different or where other members may not share similar assumptions or experiences.
  • Provide cross gender/race mentoring and sponsorship programmes.
  • Consider anonymised screening (removing names and identifying features) of applications for scholarships, disciplinary reports, auditions, etc.
  • Develop and/or use evidence based criteria and organisational guidelines and policies.
  • Use varied decision making tools; Six Thinking Hats, SWAT and PEST Analysis, ethical decision making tools, decision making mind map, etc.
  • Provide events which are accessible.
  • Ensure conferences and panels have appropriate speaker gender balance.
  • Encourage appropriate team training; e.g., recruitment and selection techniques, inclusive teaching and learning practices etc.

Recruitment and Selection

  • Explore how the staffing profile can match the student/community profiles.
  • Explore auditing the department’s staffing profile for Māori and equity group representation at each stage of the recruitment process; application-shortlist-interview-appointment, etc.
  • Discuss a recruitment strategy that will increase successful applications from under-represented groups.
  • Reassess job descriptions to ensure they are appropriate.
  • Consider a range of ways of sourcing applicants, e.g.; discuss appropriate avenues with the groups that you want to attract (e.g., senior women in STEMM); advertise to relevant women’s/Māori/Pacific/disability organisations, associations, and networks; use personal contacts and shoulder tapping; promote the faculty/division/university at conferences and external meetings; use social networks, etc.
  • Examine language used in communications such as job advertisements to remove exclusive language; consider analysis for inclusivity.
  • Have diverse selection panels; particularly including representatives of groups from which a range of applicants may apply.
  • Use structured processes and objective pre-determined criteria in short-listing and assessing applicants; consider a data matrix to objectively measure evidence against criteria.
  • Be aware of potential biases such as affinity, anchoring, confirmation and attribution biases.
  • Avoid hearsay.
  • Benchmark the job itself and not the people who have done the job previously.
  • Ask questions and counter-factual questions particularly to generalised or qualitative statements and to avoid group think or dominating personalities, e.g. “how does Applicant A not fit?”


  • Consider a variety of approaches to structuring course content and design that best suits the student population.
  • Search for and provide to students, research and information from diverse sources including gender diverse, Māori, Pacific and Asian perspectives to avoid curricula being male focussed or euro-centric.
  • Consider if Māori and Pacific issues are presented as a deficit model and if so ways in which this can be addressed.
  • Use inclusive teaching and learning practices recognising different thinking styles and learning needs.
  • Use universal design principles in creating and delivering teaching and learning resources and environments e.g. use captioned videos, provide information in a variety of formats.
  • Provide diverse role models and opportunities for student interaction; e.g., female lecturers in male dominated areas.
  • Ensure effective classroom/group dynamics, e.g., allowing only one person at a time to speak, affirming contributions, promoting respectful communication and encouraging and acknowledging diverse opinions and world views.
  • Consider marginalised students, making sure they are able to speak and ask questions – in a safe environment.
  • Set clear objective criteria before setting and marking assignments or assessments, and stick to it.
  • Explore removing identifiers from assignments when marking or using inter-rater ratings.


  • Become aware of one’s own biases; reflect on personal associations and interactions; analyse decision making practices and outcomes; undertake the IAT; ask others to give feedback.
  • Before making judgements or decisions about people – particularly those who are different from yourself – consider the situation from their perspective; how would they be experiencing the situation; what are their circumstances and situation.
  • Be conscious of the words and physical reactions that surface in interactions with others.
  • Actively seek out and engage with diverse people.
  • Practice creating more positive behaviours such as micro-affirmations to interrupt bias.
  • Be an ethical and active bystander; speak out if a colleague’s contribution may be ignored or misappropriated unfairly, call out sexism, racism, homophobia, ageism, ableism, discrimination, harassment, condescension and bias.
  • Be curious of differing opinions and explore differences.
  • 'Talk up' achievements of minority group members.
  • Refer to evidence rather than hearsay.
  • Look for ways to challenge what you think and see; consider other explanations.
  • Become informed about minority group workplace issues.
  • Use thought and change processes and habit breaking.

Interventions to guide decisions towards objectivity

  • Thinking slow strategies
  • Using decision-making tools
  • Stereotype replacement and counter stereotypic imaging
  • Reframing and perspective taking
  • Question first impressions
  • Challenge un-reflected exclusion


Information for researchers on embedding equity and inclusion into their research can be found on the web page Inclusive and equitable research.

See also