Warning! This article contains serious spoilers so do not read unless you have finished watching Bodyguard or you don't mind the plot being totally blown open (pardon the pun!) 

How many of the 10.4m viewers watching the BBC's Bodyguard would have guessed that the bomb-maker was... spoiler alert... stop reading if you have not finished watching it... honestly, last chance... (you have been warned!) Nadia Ali, the Muslim lady who Police Sergeant David Budd naively assumes is a weak brainwashed wife? Why does he jump to this conclusion? Well, perhaps it was down to unconscious bias. 

What is unconscious bias?

Unconscious biases are, according to Wikipedia's definition, learned stereotypes that are automatic, unintentional, deeply engrained, universal and able to influence behaviour. In other words, it is where your own stereotypes and prejudices impact upon your judgements and decisions without you even realising it. Almost everyone does it to some degree and if you think that you don't, take the test devised by Harvard University by clicking here as you might be surprised.  

Why does it matter?

From an employment law perspective, employees and job applicants are protected from being discriminated against, whether that discrimination occurs consciously or not, on a number of grounds. Such grounds include age, disability, gender reassignment, marital or civil partner status, pregnancy or maternity, race, colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. 

How can it be stopped?

It can be difficult to eradicate unconscious bias because it is not a thought process that the thinker is immediately aware of. Simply being aware that it exists is the first step to minimising its impact. Some other ideas are:

  1. Ensure that more than one person is involved in any decision-making (for example, during a recruitment process or redundancy selection exercise).
  2. Remove personal information (such as names and dates,) so that decisions cannot be inadvertently influenced by these external factors (for example, on an application form). Where that is not possible, make sure that decisions are well thought though and not rushed into. Documenting the reasoning can also help focus minds on the real reasons for the decision. 
  3. Run specialist training on the topic (for example, follow in the footsteps of BIFA (the British Independent Film Awards) who are providing unconscious bias training to its voting members before this year's awards). 
  4. Expose yourself to a diverse range of people and get to know them properly so you can evaluate them as individuals rather than stereotyping.

Who knows... (another spoiler alert!) perhaps if some of these ideas had been applied to PS Budd, Julia Montague would still be alive!