Unconscious Bias at Work

Stereotypes we form about others can be a real barrier to inclusive ways of working and our ability to create truly collaborative workplaces.

Hear international perspectives on how by bringing these biases to the surface and confronting them head-on we can live the values of equity and inclusion at work and achieve the greatest impact.


  • Claire Achmad | Chief Executive Officer, Social Service Providers Aotearoa
  • Carl Adams | Localization Advisor working with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)


Our thanks to Claire for providing these responses to questions that we didn't have time to cover during the session.

1. Great question there about "getting people with marginalised identities/realities into positions of power" - how do we make sure those representatives aren't just for tokenism?

It’s really important that our workplaces take a progressive approach to ensuring that diversity and representation becomes embedded as a way of working, rather than, as you say, tokenism. Here it can be helpful to look at what initiatives are under way in your sector to ensure diversity of all kinds in the workplace – for example, the government sector has some positive initiatives under way here. The reality is that certain professions do struggle here more than others – and looking at how we open up career pathways even right back from schooling and into tertiary education is important here. It is essential that we can see other people like us – who we can relate to – in a variety of careers. Research also shows that when it comes to things like receiving government, health and social services among other things, it is important that people can see themselves in the workers who they are engaging with, and are more likely to create and maintain trust in those services if this is the case. So, another good reason for why we need to be working in these ways and embedding them, rather than just taking an approach that amounts to tokenism.

2. I’ve heard that creating diversity goals are a good way to avoid gender bias. Can you give some examples of goals that would create a more gender balanced team?

Aē – there are some excellent initiatives under way here – including linked to how gender bias and discrimination can lead to pay gaps. For example see the Mind the Gap initiative, which is Aotearoa New Zealand’s first pay gap registry: https://www.mindthegap.nz/ You could encourage your organisation to sign up to this initiative and commit to pay gap reporting, which is one way that organisations can be accountable for their practices when it comes to gender bias.

3. I challenged some older managers recently about their behaviours and was dismissed as being woke. What is wrong with being woke?

I’m sure this was really discouraging for you – but please don’t let it shake your commitment to standing up for what is right when it comes to challenging the unconscious bias that is out there. We need all generations to work together to tackle these kinds of issues. See if you can open up a conversation to help them to understand how it made you feel when they labelled you as ‘woke’, and how creating safe spaces for these kinds of discussions can actually contribute to a more inclusive workplace – which is in everyone’s interests. Seeing if you can find common ground with them – and ask them why they have dismissed your ideas in this way. This could help them to see that this not an issue that is going to go away, and that as leaders, they have a responsibility to engage on. You could also see if they are interested in

delving into some of the research and evidence together with you, to ensure that your workplace can be a place where all generations feel safe, welcome and included.

4. Do you have any tips for young job seekers who may be experiencing ageism?

Keep going and don’t be discouraged – we need all ages and abilities in our workplaces. Make sure you are clear on your experiences, knowledge and skills that you bring to the workplace – regardless of your age, if you focus on these, your value-add should shine through.

5. How might we effectively self-reflect and identify unconscious biases we hold - are there questions we can ask ourselves or patterns in our behaviour to look out for?

Absolutely. A process of self-reflection and self awareness is the first step here, towards challenging our own unconscious biases. After all, we all have unconscious biases, but if we actively self-reflect to identify these, then we can take steps to challenge these and break them down.

Here are 6 Ideas for Action that I put together and shared during my talk, which could provide a helpful start point:

1. Do some self reflection. We have to become conscious of our unconscious biases.

Make it a regular process. Not to beat yourself up, but to grow your own self awareness of your unconscious biases.

2. Get clear on your values and purpose.

Ask yourself, what’s your why? What motivates you? How do you want to show up in the world and in your work? How do you want to make other people feel? Also remember – our lived experiences can be our superpowers.

3. Actively be the change.

Behave in ways that uphold your values, and that contribute to actively building a more inclusive, equitable and collaborative workplace. This is about system change and individual change. Remember, small changes can add up to a big difference.

4. Bring people into the conversation.

Think about how you involve people in conversations, and in projects. Ask yourself, are you being inclusive and equitable through your actions? Look around, be aware. Stay curious. Are there any people in your team who you can get alongside and make sure their mana is being supported and enhanced?

5. Hold to account, and bring solutions forward.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your employer/organisation, about the organisation’s policies and ways of doing things. E.g. diversity and inclusion policy? Hiring policy and process? Ask for transparency, and look to see how these things are manifesting in practice at the every-day human level. If you have bright ideas about

how things can be done better or differently to support greater inclusion, bring them forward – and see who else you can work with to do this together.

6. Adopt a learning orientation towards diversity and inclusion.

Look into what training you can do as a team. Have an environment where you can discuss these things. Remember that “Increasing diversity does not, by itself, increase effectiveness; what matters is how an organization harnesses diversity, and whether it’s willing to reshape its power structure.” (Ely and Thomas – 2020 HBR Article (https://hbr.org/2020/11/getting-serious-about-diversity-enough-already-with-the-business-case).

And overall... Challenge your thinking and assumptions. Be switched on and think about ways you can play your part in creating a culture of inclusiveness and in building a more equitable and just world – one workplace, community at a time.