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Matter for Discussion: Unconscious bias

Submitted by the RCN Eastern Board

14 May 2023, 09:00 - 18 May, 17:00

  • The Brighton Centre, King's Road, Brighton, BN1 2GR
That this meeting of RCN Congress discusses how it can support and improve awareness of unconscious bias within health care.

Unconscious (or implicit) bias are associations we hold outside our conscious awareness. This affects everyone and is triggered when our brains make quick judgments and assessments which are influenced by our background, personal experiences, societal stereotypes and cultural context. It can be sparked by gender, ethnicity, visible diversity characteristics and many other factors.

As humans, we tend to be more biased against people who are unlike us and show preference to those who are similar to us. This can influence key decisions in the workplace which contribute to inequality, for example: access to development opportunities, selection and recruitment, appraisals or promotion.

Internationally educated nurses find it particularly challenging to develop and gain promotion in the UK health care sector. Responses from the 2021 NHS Staff Survey showed that just over half (50.4%) of internationally educated nurses felt their organisation acts fairly regarding career progression or promotion - regardless of ethnic background, gender, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or age. In comparison, 57.8% of UK recruited nurses answered ‘yes’ to the same question.

We should, and can, be doing much more to help improve and support international nursing appointments. The 2022 NHS England WRES (Workforce Rave Equality Standards) report highlights the continued detriment to global majority staff (band 5 and above) in gaining successful promotion, regardless of the availability of development programmes. 

However, there are schemes reporting positive results, like the NHS East of England pilot (in conjunction with its ICS), where career development coaches support and encourage internationally educated nurses through the career progression process and work with trusts to improve interview processes to make them more accessible and inclusive. But we cannot rely on these programmes alone.

The RCN’s Cultural Ambassadors (CA) programme has evidenced that working with panel members to improve awareness of their own potential unconscious bias improves the shortlisting and appointment rates for global majority applicants, as well as internationally educated nurses.

As the Anti Racist Wales Action Plan (Welsh Government, 2022) states, "We should start to scrutinise our individual biases, and reflect on how they may impact on members of minority ethnic communities. We must also look at how we tackle institutional racism and seek out how our programmes carry an implicit bias against ethnic minority people and their needs."

Reading list for this debate available at


NHS England (2023) NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) 2022 data analysis report for NHS trusts. Available at: (Accessed 16 March 2023).

Welsh Government (2022) Anti-racist Wales action plan. Available at: (Accessed 16 March 2023).

The Brighton Centre
King's Road

Page last updated - 03/10/2023