Challenging unconscious bias: Who would you choose to survive a zombie apocalypse?


Posted on: September 18, 2017 by Neil Milliken

From picking the colour blue for boys to assuming girls are better at multi-tasking, social constructs can engrain subtle biases within all of us that can be hard to shake off. But for many, unconscious bias can present barriers in areas of everyday life. In the UK, 60% of disabled employees have experienced bias in the workplace compared to just 35% of those without a disability.

Humans are innately prejudiced, and shining a spotlight on this issue can expose tension and make people feel uncomfortable. The recent Google diversity memo scandal is a great example of this. But holding assumptions about a person’s abilities or attributes can also effectively narrow a group or an individual’s employment options. It is not just an employee issue, negative consequences can also fall on the employer, it has been proven that more diverse companies perform better. From winning over top talent, to increased employee satisfaction, widening the net and making the workplace more accessible can return impressive results.

We’re actively finding new ways to question and identify unconscious bias within the organization. Traditionally, workplace training often involves lengthy training sessions and PowerPoint presentations that fail to inspire and have lasting impact. To tackle diversity, more engaging and memorable experiences are required to drive change. Over the years, we’ve developed a close working relationship with the BBC’s Project CAPE (Creating A Positive Environment). As part of this partnership, we’ve collaborated with Leena Haque, Neurodiversity Lead and Project Researcher and Sean Gilroy, Head of Cognitive Design, on several projects seeking to address these issues. Most recently, we’ve developed a digital game set in a zombie apocalypse. Zombie films perform very well at the box-office and the theme is often popular with younger people so it provided us with the perfect mechanic to engage new audiences.

At the start of the game, players are asked to select a team from a line-up to help them escape the zombie apocalypse. Players are invited to choose an image of a person, select their role and match attributes for each profile. From this process, natural bias can instigate internal questions such as, ‘would I want the mind and logic of an accountant or the strength of a security guard?’ Following this step, the game switches the pictures of team members to make your survival team more diverse. This invites users to consider the possible unconscious biases displayed in their initial decision making process. The game concludes with a final dramatic twist, where the players have to abandon one of the team to the zombies and justify their decision.

By choosing a mechanic that’s fun, engaging and outside of real life, it allows the player to make honest selections without feeling judged. In doing so, the game has the capability to expose unconscious biases and assumptions a person might have about an individual’s skills and abilities, whether it’s based on race, disability or profession.

Unconscious bias isn’t addressed often enough and initiatives like this game are designed to be thought provoking. While the public sector has been leading the way in addressing diversity, the private sector has also started to sit up and take notice in recent years. British broadcaster, Channel 4 is a great example of this. Most recently, the broadcaster kicked off its Diversity in Advertising award, which offers organisations the chance to win £1m in airtime for an advertising campaign focused on non-visible disability. Companies like Channel 4 are interested in promoting diversity because it’s important to make opportunities as accessible as possible to help their organisation advance and grow.

Diversity initiatives including accessibility are high on our agenda and have full buy-in from the executive team, a crucial element for driving change in any organisation. In August 2017 we appointed, Jean Fleming, as Group Chief Diversity Officer to actively progress diversity initiatives in the organisation. Accessibility is also something we’ll continue to collaborate on with our partners at the BBC. Over the next few months, we’ll be working on immersive VR to find new ways of learning within neuro-diversity.

Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse is in the final stages of development and will be available on the BBC Taster website shortly. This week (18th-22nd Sept 2017), we’re celebrating Wellbeing@Work Week at Atos and Care Day. We’re aiming to promote diversity initiatives and encourage strong employee empowerment with a specific focus on age, gender and disabilities.

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About Neil Milliken

Head of Accessibility & Digital Inclusion and member of the Scientific Community
With over a decade of experience in the assistive technology industry, Neil is the subject matter expert on Accessibility and Assistive Technology for Atos, delivering consultancy, expertise and supporting bid and delivery teams across customer accounts and internally. Neil is the Atos representative on the Business Taskforce For Assistive Technology which has members across industry and government. He also sits on various advisory bodies including the e-accessibility forum for the UK Department for Culture Media and Sport. Previously Neil ran the operations for one of the world’s leading Assistive Technology suppliers where he was instrumental in the creation of industry standards and Supplier SLAs for the Disabled Student Allowance. He was also a director of a Joint venture company that developed an award winning Mobile app for dyslexia. He has a passion for his subject matter and loves mobiles, technology and music in no particular order.

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