Mirèze Philippe On Unconscious Bias

We spoke to Mirèze Philippe, founding co-president and board member of ArbitralWomen, on the challenges of recognising and combating unconscious bias, and ArbitralWomen’s work in that area.

1. What is unconscious bias?

Unconscious bias is a form of social categorisation, whereby we rapidly and routinely sort people into groups. Our unconscious mind is what allows us (i) to quickly process everything going on around us, (ii) decide which information to focus on, (iii) make inferences and assumptions, and (iv) feel attracted to some people but not others based on our emotions.

In other words, we do not see our world as it really is, we see it the way our bias allows us to see it.

Human beings are organised in social, cultural, professional groups of various types. They need to belong to a group, to identify themselves with types of groups which they either grew in or they have adopted. They become members of such groups or communities, and they need to be recognised by such groups or communities. Members of a group adopt in general the position of the group, rightly or wrongfully, thus creating biased situations. Any newcomer in a community is usually not welcome and may be isolated. We adopt stereotypes and put individuals in boxes. What then happens naturally is that any person who does not belong to our groups or to groups we recognise and respect becomes an individual or a group that we subconsciously – sometimes consciously – reject.

Stereotypes are formed outside of our own conscious awareness, and are generated by all sorts of external factors, including what the media convey to us. We are taught to learn things in a certain way. We are all busy and we are multitasking. When we are moving fast or lack all necessary data to form an opinion, our unconscious biases fill in the gaps, influencing everything.

Zillions of situations have been previously recorded somewhere in the back of ou