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Stage is set for businesses to act against bias

1st June 2016

The concept of corporate culture is taking on a new meaning with Siemens turning to drama to address key business issues among its global workforce including the problems of unconscious bias.

He was joined by consultant Clare Crowther and Humberside Chief Constable Justine Curran in highlighting the risks to organisations of failing to deal with the imbalance which unconscious bias creates.

The discussion was organised by the Hull Businesswomen’s Breakfast Club and attracted employers from across the region to The Deep. Freya Cross, Chair of the club, said: “Unconscious bias has emerged as a major topic of business discussion and we were fortunate to be able to present three speakers who recognise the issues and were able to raise awareness among our very influential audience.”

Mrs Crowther, who has worked for BAE Systems and PwC, used elements of role play to present light-hearted aspects of unconscious bias, but she concluded with some strong messages.

She said: “Unconscious bias can lead to less eye contact with candidates and more with colleagues, adversely affecting the interview process. It can lead to valuable contributions being missed because an individual prefers to listen and reflect rather than join an open discussion.”

Her advice to check and monitor policies and procedures for signs of unconscious bias came with a warning that it is not always necessary to prove intent to establish discrimination.

Ms Curran triggered unconscious bias among the audience with slides showing the romance and the reality – Dixon of Dock Green, archetypal British bobby on the beat, and then the modern officers, laden with protective equipment and in some cases heavily armed.

She revealed that the Humberside force faces hundreds of interactions every day, many of them requiring split-second judgments and all of them vulnerable to unconscious bias.

She said: “We have to be worthy of the trust that you give us. You trust us only because you believe that trust to be legitimate and when we get that wrong it can have catastrophic implications.

“We train people to deal with violence, rioting, looting but now we also have to train them to deal with people who just happen to be watching or walking through the middle of it. How do you, in that situation, bring all of your biases into it and treat people the same?”

Ms Curran said victims of crime do not always behave in a way which is predictable, possibly because of their unconscious bias against the police, and the police response is based on training and a code of ethics which emphasises a human approach.

She said: “The most important thing you need to do is to make people feel that you care. The last thing we want is a police service where we robotically eliminate every element of humanity.

“I would never say we have got it sorted. Think about it and think about how your people are interacting with other people. It’s the most important thing your organisation can do.”

Mr Simpson said Siemens recognises that diversity is a fact and inclusion is a choice but still struggles to balance a workforce which is 77 per cent male, with a senior management figure of 88 per cent.

He said: “We need to do more work on gender focus. We want to be an inclusive organisation where everybody feels valued. It moves towards a broader conversation about inclusion, and central to that is unconscious bias.

“Look at any piece of research and you will see that organisations which are balanced in terms of knowledge, skills and experience and gender and ethnicity make better decisions.”

Mr Simpson revealed that Siemens is planning to adopt the drama based techniques already successful in other areas of the business to explore unconscious bias.

He said: “We have used drama very effectively to promote zero harm and try to get to the bottom of why people act in unsafe ways, because that can’t just be done with an induction video. We take people through an experiential journey to show why some things are unsafe.

“We fundamentally believe our innovation, our productivity and our financial performance will be increased if we are the most inclusive organisation we can be and if our people turn up for work as the most inclusive people that they can be.”

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