Are you aware of your unconscious bias by Katy Mousinho

By Guest Contributor Katy Mousinho

Co-Author of Wonder Women, Katy Mousinho, explains what unconscious bias is and how to address it in your professional and personal life.



One of the problems with unconscious bias is that it is unconscious!  It often goes un-noticed, it is very difficult to identify in ourselves, and when unchecked it continues to reinforce the bias.  In this article we set out to address this (just a little – as much can be achieved in small steps) by clarity on the definition, sharing with you some of the things we heard from the Wonder Women in Marketing we interviewed, and some little hacks for addressing it.


Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from one’s tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing.

Unconscious bias is far more prevalent than conscious prejudice and often incompatible with one’s conscious values. Certain scenarios can activate unconscious attitudes and beliefs. For example, biases may be more prevalent when multi-tasking or working under time pressure.

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What I find fascinating about unconscious bias is that simply creating AWARENESS of it helps you change your and others’ thinking, language and actions.  So much is engrained in our subconscious through our up-bringing, social constructs, and culture that it is difficult to break your bad habits even when they are not your beliefs.  I believe whole-heartedly in equal opportunity, recognition and rewards, but I confess that I slip up from time to time in what I say (and sometimes do).

For our Wonder Women book, we talked to a broad range of women; some well-known names, some you would never have heard of; across an age range that illustrated the changes over the decades; from a mix of sectors; mix of specialisms; and mix of nationalities.  When we asked them about the challenges they faced as women in marketing, there were many very revealing responses:

“There have been a million small things – a million small gestures that I can’t even remember. That’s what makes it difficult to fight against”

– Kara McCartney, who started her career as a social analyst at Ammirati Puris Lintas, finding her passion for brand strategy at Landor and is now senior vice president of The Values Engineers in San Francisco.


“It’s much harder to quantify the stuff that’s going on below the surface”

Kate Thornton, who spent over 20 years of her career at British Airways ina variety of sales, commercial and customer roles, both overseas and in the UK. More recently, she was Chief Customer Officer at Simplyhealth.

Interestingly, these small things are likely to be the most dangerous. So, how do we push back against them? 



There were some other revealing examples of bias in our Wonder Women’s experiences, which I am sure many of you will relate to (both women and men):

“I’ve experienced the assumption that as a woman I’m the more junior, even though I’m a Partner. A new client, who is male, unconsciously addressed the more junior guy first, assuming he was the partner. When you bring it to their attention, they’re embarrassed, of course, but it’s still happening”.

– Rebecca Lury, whose career in PR spans a decade. She was shortlisted as Public Affairs Consultant of the Year in December 2014 and is currently a partner at Pagefield. Alongside her day job, she is Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure, Equalities and Communities at Southwark Council, where she has been a Councillor since 2012 and recently stood for election as Labour MP at St Albans.


“Women have brilliant ideas, but how many times have we been in meetings and said something that was ignored, then a man says the same thing. Everyone says, “Well done, Geoff, that was very clever.”

– Kate Thornton


“There was an occasion when I was working in a small agency. One evening, all the secretaries had gone home at 6pm and suddenly a call came in and we had to rush something out. The MD asked me if I could type the response. He just expected me to be able to type because that’s what all women were taught, weren’t they! Well, I had deliberately not learned to type for precisely that reason and anyway they did not offer that course at Oxford when reading natural sciences.”

– Henrietta Jowitt, Deputy Director General – Commercial at the CBI. She started her career as a graduate working on Heinz Baked Beans, then progressed in FMCG brand-led organizations before switching to the very different world of professional services.


“I have lost count of the times I was asked, during pregnancy and after the birth of my daughter, if I was planning to go back to work. My husband wasn’t asked that once!”

– Jossie Morrison, who started her marketing journey in brand consultancy, then onto Waitrose, where she was one of eight selected from over 2,000 for their leadership programme. An opportunity to live in Bermuda and set up her own business, The Brand Bulb.



What has helped me address my unconscious bias is my own self-awareness together with others around me helping me to identify my faux pas.  Within my family and amongst trusted colleagues and friends, we light-heartedly pick each other up on unconscious bias, then through awareness we can correct.  So, do not ignore the million small things that crop up every day – help yourself address your unconscious bias and help others around you do the same thing.

Giles Lury, co-author of Wonder Women, also found a few examples of the most frequent unconscious biases directed at women we should all be aware of:

  • Women are very emotional
  • Women aren’t good at being assertive
  • Women are more caring
  • All serial killers are men
  • Men make better leaders
  • Women are not good drivers
  • Women will do the (majority of) parenting and stay at home
  • Women will do the housework

The good news is that many enlightened organisations are working hard to address unconscious bias. By challenging and correcting thought patterns, checking language, attitudes and behaviour of leaders and employees in small ways really makes a difference (think marginal gains theory!).

There are specialist consultants who work with leadership teams and cascade corrective measures throughout the organisation.  Edwina Dunn, Founder of The Female Lead and one of our Wonder Women, recently interviewed Stacey Gordon, a Diversity Strategist about how to interrupt the bias, which is well worth listening to:

A famous, and very simple, example of how to eliminate unconscious bias was how blind auditions helped to eliminate gender bias in orchestras.  In the 1970s and 1980s, orchestras began using blind auditions. Candidates are situated on a stage behind a screen to play for a jury that cannot see them. It has had a powerful impact resulting in a more balanced gender representation.

Although advertising can be the worst in portraying the stereotypes, there are some campaigns such as #likeagirl and Always are leading the way.  The P&G brand (who owns Always) created a three-minute video that features men and women who are asked to do things “like a girl.” The short film quickly shows viewers that “like a girl” is often taken as insult, as many of the men and women in the video giggle, flip their hair and flail their arms around when they are asked to run, throw and fight like a girl. Yet when young girls are asked to run, fight and throw like a girl, the results are drastically different. When one little girl is asked what it means to run like a girl, she responds by saying “it means run as fast as you can,” prompting Always to ask: When did doing something “like a girl” become an insult?


KATY MOUSINHO is now enjoying a life of ‘freedom and flexibility’, having forsaken the world of full-time working to pursue multiple activities including writing, health and fitness, travel and helping out small businesses with their brand and marketing strategy. As former managing Director of The Value Engineers and with 30 years’ experience in insight and brand strategy, she has gained a broad perspective on the world of consumers and brand, having worked with a diverse range of clients across categories and countries.  


GILES LURY is a VW Beetle-driving, Lego watch-wearing Disney-loving, Chelsea supporting father of five who also happens to be a director of brand consultancy at The Value Engineers and author of The Prisoner and the Penguin, How Coca-Cola Took Over the World, and Inspiring Innovation




Suggested Reading

Every marketer knows the stories of Lord Lever and Steve Jobs, has probably read AI Ries and Jack Trout, and seen the works of Bill Bernbach and John Hegarty. What’s interesting about these ‘Masters of Marketing’ is that they are all men. Katy Mousinho’s and Giles Lury’s Wonder Women tells the stories of some of the women who have had a tremendous influence on the marketing industry, like Brownie Wise, who transformed Tupperware and Mary Wells Lawrence, who founded advertising agency Wells, Rich, Greene.  

There are also interviews with Edwina Dunn OBE – the co-founder of Dunnhumby and the data behind the Tesco Clubcard; Helle Muller Peterson – Senior Vice President, Arla Foods Denmark and previously the only female country CEO in Carlsberg, plus many more. Mousinho and Lury pull together their findings, not only to celebrate their success, but to provide insights for the future of marketing and the great marketers, women and men, to come. 

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