Are we guilty of harbouring cognitive biases?

We are conditioned to believe that only prejudiced people are guilty of being biased, and not people who are educated and progressive. However, no matter what our educational background is or which culture we belong to, we are all guilty of being biased.

One such insidious bias hiding in plain sight is our propensity to stereotype others. We constantly stereotype people based on, what we like to call, our “hunch”. This happens, mostly, when we do not have enough information about a person or a group of people and our so-called “hunch” makes assumptions about those people based on their appearance, their gender, their language and culture. Quite often, such assumptions are wrong and even offensive.

Stereotypes function at two levels: descriptive and prescriptive. A typical descriptive stereotype could be something as innocuous as “all programmers are geeks” or “all hackers are evil”. Descriptive stereotypes are typical characteristics, traits and qualities that we ascribe to people either based on their race, ethnicity, religion or gender. Descriptive stereotypes generate assumptions and prejudices about what a certain group or person is like. Prescriptive stereotypes, on the other hand, create expectations about how a certain group or gender should behave to avoid derogation by society at large.


Both these stereotypes have developed not only around different races and backgrounds but also around gender. Gender stereotypes are closely linked to traditional social roles of men and women. The qualities (descriptive) associated or ascribed to men and women are also qualities that are expected (prescriptive) of them. For example, characteristics such as affectionate and compassionate are almost always associated with women whereas men get the tags of being tough, aggressive, ambitious. These stereotypes blatantly exist in our minds and is the enemy of gender equality because they are hindrances to career advancement for both men and women.

In our Be a Gender Bias Detective online game, your players will explore how veiled biases are in organizations and develop techniques to neutralise such biases. To set up a free demo of the game and get a first-hand experience, contact us at

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