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The University of Southampton

Culture and unconscious bias

What do we mean by unconscious bias?

Unconscious bias refers to a bias that we are unaware of, and which happens outside of our control. It is a bias that happens automatically and is triggered by our brain making quick judgments and assessments of people and situations, influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences

(ECU: 2013 Unconscious bias in higher education)


The reality in the Higher Education sector is (source: Equality in higher education: statistical report 2013 - Equality Challenge Unit):

79.5% male
93.7% white (among UK nationals - 86.0% white among non-UK nationals)
97.6% non-disabled
95.8% over 40

Examples could include:

Student admissions

- Offer & acceptance rates
- Images / publicity – inclusive & representative
- Female staff on open days / Roles in dept
- Names / address / foreign or local qualifications

Students assessments

- Difference in attainment between genders in different modules, course work, year-end assessments & final degree class
- Anonymous marking/ second marking
- Group work – diversity
- Look at feedback given to different groups of students

Recruitment of staff 

- Difference in ratios between applications, shortlisting, interviewing & appointments
- Adverts visible to under-represented groups
- Criteria for person spec – essential criteria
- Use standard application not CV’s
- Anonymous shortlisting
- Interview panel – verbal commitment to equality, consider similarities, objective rather than subjective, reps, single gender on panel

Promotion of staff

- Gender differences in proportion of male & female staff self nominating / being nominated for promotion & rates of success
- Difference by gender of time spent at each grade for academic staff
- Clear objectives
- Also merit pay

Staff appraisals

- Monitor the appraisal process among staff
- Gender difference in the outcomes of appraisals
- Appraisal recognises the variety of work – Research, Teaching, Outreach, Admin responsibilities

Workload allocation

- Gender difference in time allocated to various work areas - Research, Teaching, Outreach, Admin responsibilities
- Volunteering or carry out work that is more positive to career progression or or work that is not highly valued
- Process staff are allocated teaching responsibilities
- Ensure admin work is not disproportionately allocated to certain groups of staff


- Research Project – advisory group / steering group
- Teaching – cases studies
- Marketing / Website / Publicity
- Meetings – timings & scheduling
- Guest speakers / lectures – diversity

We aim to craft a culture through our action plan, training and leading by example that mitigates unconscious bias.

Mitigate the impact / increased awareness of strategies to manage our brain shortcuts

Practical examples

What you can do

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