Am I fair? Are you fair?



The human mind must think with the aid of categories. Once formed, categories are the basis for normal prejudgment. We cannot possibly avoid this process. Orderly living depends on it.

GORDON W ALLPORT ‘The Nature of Prejudice’ (Addison-Wesley 1954) page 20)’]


When dealing with individual items in categories such as ‘chairs’ and ‘brooms’ we can accept this equably. The problem comes when we apply categories to individual people.

Still, if we ask people directly about their prejudices in a poll, many will say they are in favour of a society where people are judged on their merits. So why does discrimination on the basis of gender, skin colour, disability, age, etc., still exist?
Because hidden biases and unconscious beliefs and preferences influence our judgments and actions. Such biases are so prevalent that even members of negatively stereotyped groups are commonly biased against their own social group. Thus, even women are biased against women.
Not convinced? Check out one of the Implicit Association Tests (IAT) available for self-testing online at:

But be warned! You might find out some surprising and disturbing things about your own hidden biases whether these are towards women, old people, black or those with disabilities and even if you are yourself an elderly, black, disabled female.


Whether we want them to or not,
the attitudes of the culture at large infiltrate us

BANAJI M. R. and G. GREENWALD ‘Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People’ Delacorte 2013


If we are not fair, what can we do about it?

Here are some ideas:

  • ‘Blinding method’. Simply do not meet the person you are interacting with.
    Example: Female musicians are often rejected when applying for work in an orchestra. When a screen was introduced so that judges could not see who was playing, the number of women hired by major orchestras doubled. (Banaji and Greenwald, 2013 Chapter 8.)
  • Apply a set of fixed rules to eliminate human discretion from the decision at hand, rather as some computer programs diagnose disease based on symptoms and other patient data.
  • Press the media to include more positive examples of stereotyped groups so that negativity is gradually eroded in the culture at large.
  • Set up a web site designed to tackle an issue of unfairness that impacts on the employability of certain disadvantaged groups. (Ahem! I rest my case!)