Equality Institute

Equality Insights Blog

Understanding Unconscious Bias and Microaggressions

Unconscious bias is a sneaky thing. We're all guilty of it. If you've ever assumed someone is gay or lesbian, you're guilty of it. Yes, even "gaydar" is unconscious bias.

The "official" definition according to the LGBTQ Council is: an unquestioned or automatic assumption about an individual, usually based on positive or negative traits associated with a group they belong to, that prevents them from treating them as an individual. 

Unconscious bias can relate to every type of person - people of color, people of different religious backgrounds, races, people who are LGBTQ, people who are homeless, people with disabilities, people who are mentally ill and more. There is even unconscious bias towards the most privileged groups. And yes, we can even have unconscious bias towards people in our own "group."

Is this necessarily a bad thing? Not necessarily - if we keep this to ourselves. But often in the business of customer service, unconscious bias creeps in (think racial profiling) and microaggressions occur. It's the microaggressions which can cause trouble for your company.

Direct from our survey respondents, here are just a few examples of microaggressions which can occur in LGBTQ customer service:

  • “Had the owner of one venue tell my wife that she ‘looks straight as straight can be’”
  • "Almost every hotel assumes we are not together and will book us into a two bed room, even when a single bed is specifically requested”
  • “Being told you don’t act gay or look trans as if it’s an accomplishment.”
  • “Seeing every billboard and advertisement depict straight couples as the only option.”
  • "If I walk into a men's clothing store or department, I feel like they reluctantly provide assistance and that I'm unwelcomed."
  • "I'm afraid of other people's aggression when they feel that I am in the 'wrong' area."

How are you preparing your team to avoid microaggressions?