Equal Opportunities Commission


E-news Issue 219


HKU publishes EOC-funded study on unconscious bias

Prejudice and bias come in different forms. Some are overt and manifest themselves in blatantly discriminatory conduct; others are more implicit and subtle, shaping our deep-seated attitudes and values. While the law functions to address the former, the latter could equally subjugate marginalised communities and perpetuate inequality.

Published on 24 September 2019, the EOC-funded study, “Doing Equality Consciously: Understanding Unconscious Bias and its Role and Implications in the Achievement of Equality in Hong Kong and Asia”, sought to tackle this complex yet pressing issue. The project was housed at The University of Hong Kong’s Women’s Studies Research Centre (WSRC) and the Faculty of Law’s Centre for Comparative and Public Law (CCPL), and aimed to look into the types and extent of unconscious bias and the potential for intervention in different settings.

The implicit association test (IAT) was used to assess unconscious biases among 112 participants from secondary schools, universities, and the corporate sector. An intervention was then designed and implemented to test the effects of ameliorative measures on the respondents’ bias levels.

There was clear evidence of widespread racial and gender stereotypes across different participant groups, with racial biases being stronger than gender-based ones. Intervention was effective in reducing gender-based biases but not racial ones, reflecting that the latter is more ingrained and requires more complex approaches to address it. Significantly, exposure to social group networks was found to impact the effectiveness of intervention. This indicates a need for more tailored and context-specific intervention tools.

The report offers several recommendations, including incorporating implicit bias awareness into early childhood education, and institutionalising training in governmental, educational, corporate, health, civil society, legal, and social welfare organisations. To read the full report, please click the link below.