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The Unconsious Bias

New times are ahead when applying for jobs in Victoria: the Victorian government are going to trial removing personal details, such as name, gender, age and location, from job applications to rule out discrimination or unconscious bias.

At the end of 2015, the Guardian published an article, under the subject “Women in Leadership”, relating to recognising and overcoming your unconscious bias. The article recommends individuals review their internal conversation, not to be exclusive, develop your own core value system, and to “change your lens” by using an “unconscious bias lens” when considering job promotions. In Victoria, the Minister for Multicultural Affairs, Robyn Scott, has been backing this very cause and is supporting the 18-month trial in Victoria to assess whether personal details should be removed during the job application process.

Unconscious bias is the phenomenon whereby hidden beliefs or attitudes influence our behaviour and decisions without us realising it. The gender equality debate is at the forefront of unconscious bias and is something worth discussing within the medical profession. Slowly gender equality in medicine is improving, but there is still a long way to go to see more women in all kinds of leadership roles. There is speculation that it is not only the men in medicine that are applying an unconscious bias but also the women themselves.

However, unconscious bias is not just a gender issue within medicine. At the outset of my medical career, during my medical student years, the general surgeon I was assigned to for my surgical training explained to me that he felt the need to change his name to an Anglicised name in order to increase his chances of being offered consultant posts. He was British-born and completed all of his surgical training in the UK but his heritage was Indian and he felt his name alone was enough to bias the board assessing his application. This is clearly not an example not of gender bias but of a cultural and ethnic unconscious or sadly, perhaps even a conscious, bias. An area that is equally as important as the gender argument.

Unconscious bias is likely present in all of us, and acknowledging that it exists is the start to unfolding how we can prevent it in all appointments, not just in medicine but in the entire workforce.

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