The NHS fosters excellence in recruitment, retention and progression, but this can only be achieved if we select from the widest range of talent and that is not possible if unconscious bias is narrowing down the field for non-scientific reasons.

To begin with, watch this clip about unconscious from the Royal Society.


Next, familiarise yourself with the topic using the information below.

What is unconscious bias?

Unconscious bias is when we are not aware that we are making judgements and decisions based on prior experience or habituated thought patterns, assumptions or interpretations.

Studies show that:

  • most people believe that their decisions are not based on prejudice or unchecked assumptions;
  • we have a positive bias towards our ingroup;
  • we have a negative bias towards an outgroup;
  • when we are in the company of someone in our ingroup we feel confident about judging their excellence and trustworthiness;
  • when we are in the company of members of an outgroup we feel like we are taking a high risk – we feel we are on less secure ground and we feel less confident.

Therefore, unconscious biases kick in when judging familiar (ingroup) and unfamiliar (outgroup) people. This can contribute to poor choices and poor decision-making.

Consider the following:

  1. Orchestras used to be all male.When they introduced a screen to obscure potential candidates, the recruitment panel was able to decide on the merit of performance only and women began to be selected in equal numbers.
  2. When the we keep seeing senior managers who are male and nurses who are female we begin to expect to see this combination and pattern over and over again. Something that detracts from it, for example a male nurse, will affect us, it will feel ‘unnatural’ and reveal the stereotypical view that we hold.
  3. In general, our ingroup is the group we’d like to belong to. Often, this is the group that has power. Therefore it is often the case that women can be biased against other women in interviews and people from black and minority ethnic (BME) groups may be biased against other people from the same BME groups.

Things we can do

We are all affected by unconscious bias. It takes effort and commitment to keep our biases in check. Remember the following:

  1. We are better able to pick up biases in others. Therefore it is important to work with others in detecting and calling out bias.
  2. Ensure that there are diverse people on committees, interview panels and different levels of your organisation.
  3. Awareness of your own biases can help you monitor and contextualise your decisions and choices. This is something that needs to be done routinely.
  4. Try to give yourself time and slow down the speed of decision making in situations such as selecting candidates for a post.
  5. Challenge yourself to look beyond what you are used to. Ask yourself if the patterns you feel are ‘normal’ really are. Find out how stereotypes are formed.


BSUH NHS Trust is committed to making recruitment, selection and other staffing decisions purely on the basis of the quality of the work and merit of the individual. The Trust strives to ensure that no individual receives less favourable consideration on the basis of age, disability, ethnicity, national origins, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion or similar philosophical belief, sex, marriage or civil partnership status or pregnancy and maternity status.

The information in this section is meant to remind you of potential issues around unconscious bias and motivate you to deliberately and regularly revisit them before making a decision. If you need training in the area or would like additional guidance, contact the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Team.