Queensland Government

Unconscious bias

Often referred to as “hidden bias”, unconscious bias can be described as ‘normal human prejudice that we all have, regardless of how fair-minded we consider ourselves to be’ (Australian National University (ANU), 2015). The ANU describes unconscious bias as being created and reinforced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences. It is often interpreted as the first impression and intuitions we have when interacting with other people.

Almost everyone has unconscious bias, in one way or another. It is normal, but you need to be aware of it and mitigate its negative impact, particularly in the workplace.

Recognising unconscious bias: How does it manifest in a workplace?

Unconscious bias affects our behaviours and can sometimes contribute to unintended discrimination. Therefore, it is important to acknowledge and recognise it, particularly in the workplace, because it can lead to miscommunications, misunderstanding, poor decision-making, undesirable tension and unnecessary conflicts. We need to interrupt the bias and mitigate its impact with a view to creating a diverse and inclusive working environment. Unconscious bias may manifest in many areas in the workplace including:

  • evaluations of resumes and job credentials
  • letters of recommendation
  • academic esteem
  • auditions
  • pay gaps
  • distribution of mentoring, coaching, sponsorship
  • the construction of merit.

The Queensland Government’s Business and Industry website page on Unconscious Bias has more information about unconscious bias including a link to the Harvard Implicit Assessment Test to learn more about your own bias and find out about strategies to manage diversity in teams.

Cross cultural communication

According to the Australian Multicultural Foundation Managing Cultural Diversity – Training Program Resource Manual, cross cultural communication is complex but can be sorted into four basic elements:

  1. Verbal behaviours: what we say and how we say it
  2. Non-verbal behaviours: what can be said without talking/speaking
  3. Communication style: how we express ourselves
  4. Values, attitudes and prejudices: what we believe is right.

The above highlights that cross cultural communication – whether it be with employees, colleagues, business partners, community members, customers and other stakeholders – can be very complex, and requires consideration and planning in order to engage effectively.

It is not hard to develop good practice in communicating cross culturally. Be informed, be aware and be ready to adapt and change in your communication style as required. The Department of Social Services (formerly from the Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs) has created a factsheet to assist with Communicating in a Culturally Appropriate Way.

The content in this section is intended as a guide only and was prepared with the assistance of Cultural Perspectives Pty Ltd.