Civil Service Scrap Unconscious Bias Training

By Amanda Beattie
01 Feb 2021

What is unconscious bias?

It’s the idea that individuals are unconsciously drawn to an individual due to a certain characteristic. Or are put-off by something of this nature.

This type of bias can be related to a protected characteristic. If it is, you need to consider the Equality Act 2010. If left unchecked, it can cause numerous issues in the employing and managing of staff.

Unconscious bias

How does this work in practice?

You may choose to hire someone because they went to the same school as you, or came from the same area. In either case, you are unfairly denying the opportunity to someone who does not fall into this bracket.

Alternatively, you may not want to hire someone due to their accent. In the last few years, many companies have implemented training to raise awareness of this issue. However, the Civil Service have recently announced that they will no longer pursue training in this area.


Cabinet Secretary Julia Lopez stated that there is a ‘strong body’ of evidence that the training had ‘no sustained impact on behaviour’. She even stated that it could be ‘counter-productive’. Calling it a ‘tick box exercise’ she instead outlines that the government body will implement new training on diversity and inclusion.

This will begin in 2021, with a ‘stronger focus on engaging measurable action’.

Should I be using this type of training, or not?

This is certainly an interesting development, especially coming from a government body. It remains to be seen if other companies will follow this example. That said, inequality at work remains a key issue in the modern workplace. Unconscious bias training can be seen as a key way of tackling this.

It also demonstrates to staff that you are committed to the encouragement of diversity and inclusion. As we are seeing with the Civil Service, if you do decide to scrap any current unconscious bias training, we recommend replacing it with something else.

Your unconscious bias strategy

For now, if you wish to introduce this form of training, or maintain it, you should make sure that you have clear procedures in place. Employees and management should be reminded of situations where unconscious bias can occur. Train them to objectively approach each situation to avoid this. As a reminder, here are some examples of the different types of unconscious bias:

  • Horns effect – A job candidate makes flippant comments about a politician that the interviewer doesn’t agree with. The interviewer allows that to influence their decision.
  • Attribution – A job applicant doesn’t smile at you when they introduce themselves. You attribute that to them being unfriendly and unwilling to impress.
  • Beauty bias – A manager decides that someone isn’t the right fit for an organisation because they don’t make enough effort with their appearance.

Expert support

If you need help with employee training, unconscious bias, or any other HR issue, speak to one of our HR experts today on 01455 858 132.

About the Author

Amanda Beattie

Amanda represents corporate clients and large public bodies, including complex discrimination and whistleblowing claims. Amanda also drafts and delivers bespoke training regarding all aspects of employment law, including ‘mock tribunal’ events; in addition she also frequently drafts employment law articles for various publications for Croner and their clients.

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