What’s Unconcious Bias and Do You Have It?

Cambridge Botanic Garden

As many of you know, every Sunday I run a Japanese speaking group for bilinguals wanting to chat. A week or so ago, we decided that we’d like to go to Cambridge’s Botanic Garden for an outing.

We usually have around 8 or so members each week, but this time we had 12. Not a problem; we were the first through the gates, and had our own picnics to eat half way around.

We decided to sit for our lunch after we came out of the gorgeous greenhouses, half of us sat at a picnic table and half of us on the grass.

Suddenly, an employee was at my side. “Excuse me, your group is fine for today, but really you should have booked as a group; we have business decisions to make when groups larger than 10 come in”.

I was quite taken aback by this. We weren’t disturbing anything; we had our own food and nothing else we did would have warranted change from the staff. What’s more, how was he to know that we didn’t have a group pass?

As we walked around the garden, I got increasingly agitated about this interaction, especially as I saw large groups of white families – many larger than 10 people – around the park.

I feel that in this instance, we were a victim of unconscious bias. Of course, if the rule is that groups of 10 or more should book in advance, that is fine. But as we were 70% Japanese people, in a city where we have a LOT of Asian tourists (who, quite frankly, make it challenging to get about sometimes), I think this man made assumptions on who we were based on what we looked like.

A long time ago, I got into a clicking spiral about unconscious bias. This is when our brains tell us things about other people, potentially affecting our decisions and actions, without us knowing about it.

I consider myself to be someone who doesn’t judge people on how they look and who they are, so I decided to put myself to the test and take one of the Harvard Project Implicit tests to see how I fare.

I took the race test, knowing that on a day to day basis, I am not racist. I found that I was slightly more positive towards white people than to People of Colour.

As you can imagine, this was quite shocking. I think there are things in the media, and things we are taught indirectly that live in our brains and affect how we think about other people. Even someone like me who considers themselves to not be racist can be affected by unconscious bias.

In the workplace, unconscious bias is very dangerous. Especially if you are part of a hiring process. What kind of things is your subconscious telling you about the person sat across the interview table to you? What’s more, people are much more likely to hire candidates who are similar to themselves.

Many workplaces have training to make employees aware of unconscious bias these days, including Starbucks who recently shut all its American stores early so every member of staff could take part. Since this is an issue that affects probably more of our business than we’d like to admit, it would be such a shame to see this training stacked up with all the other “click along” training that people have to take when they join companies.

I urge you to take a few of the tests above and see how you do! Let me know how you get on in the comments!




  1. I tried to do the one with the skin tone and positive/negative words but it crashed right as it was supposed to give me my results!

  2. Half the time I take a bus home from campus that has a large portion or predominantly black people riding with me. I will admit that each time I ride that bus with mostly black patrons I feel more anxious than I would if it was mostly female or mostly white patrons. I take a moment to acknowledge that I feel anxious, take another to look at what is making me anxious (skin, hair, clothing, body language etc) and decide if there really is anything to be anxious about. There is not. I force myself to not avoid sitting next to them on seats (unless they are obnoxious man -spreaders) and I try to get on with the rest of my day. It’s a process for me.


  1. […] Every day people discriminate, whether we mean to or not. The odds are stacked against the students I work with, simply because of where they’re from, how they’ve grown up and what opportunities they’ve been exposed to. This can be narrowed down to postcode (we target students at my job by postcode), and it’s not even just social mobility that’s affected; in some parts of Cambridge even your life expectancy is different based on where you live. […]

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