In a collaborative virtual workshop between RW3 CultureWizard and Dr. Joel Brown of Pneumos (a management consulting and performance-improvement firm) that took place in January 2021, Dr. Joel said something I will never forget:
“We can’t resolve what we don’t acknowledge.”
He was speaking specifically about implicit bias, and the positive impact that self-awareness can have on our relationships with those around us. Going a step further, his maxim implies that in order to make more thoughtful, less biased decisions, we must be able to bring the unconscious over to the conscious. Admittedly, this is much easier said than done.
First, we have to understand what implicit bias means.
What Is Implicit Bias?
Implicit bias refers to the quick, unconscious, and involuntary judgements our brain makes. It’s a natural, biological reaction that influences our behavior and perceptions – for better or for worse.
In a Q&A with social psychologist Anthony Greenwald from University of Washington, journalist Betsy Mason wrote, “people have deep-seated biases of which they are completely unaware. And these hidden attitudes – known as implicit bias – influence the way we act toward each other, often with unintended discriminatory consequences.”
But despite the often-negative repercussions, implicit bias isn’t inherently destructive. In a helpful “Mythbusters: Implicit Bias Edition”, the Kirwan Institute addresses the myth that having implicit biases can make you a bad person: “Bias is a natural phenomenon in that our brains are constantly forming automatic associations as a way to better and more efficiently understand the world around us. No one is a ‘bad’ person for harboring implicit biases; these are normal human processes that occur on an unconscious level. Some implicit biases are even positive in nature. In terms of the existence of unwanted, negative implicit biases, fortunately our brains are malleable, thus giving us the capacity to mitigate their effect though research- based debiasing strategies.”
So, what can we do about implicit bias?
Keeping Unwanted Implicit Biases in Check
Just because implicit bias is part of our human nature, it doesn’t mean we can’t actively work to mitigate potentially harmful biases. Yes, it takes effort. But taking the time to acknowledge our biases can help us better our interactions with those around us by reducing unintended discrimination and increasing our capacity for inclusively collaborating with diverse groups and individuals. Here are a few sources to help you get started:
Project Implicit: Greenwald and his colleagues Mahzarin Banaji and Brian Nosek developed Project Implicit, which offers an implicit association test to measure how people may associate different social groups with certain positive or negative qualities. They've developed versions of the test to measure unconscious attitudes about race, gender, members of the LGBT+ community, and more. I highly recommend taking several of these implicit bias tests, if only to whet your appetite for bias self-awareness. The most obvious finding about these tests is just how pervasive implicit bias is, despite the fact that some people associate the admission of having bias as a judgement of their character.
Implicit Bias Training: If implicit bias can be defined as unquestioned, mental shortcuts, we must practice questioning the reliability and accuracy of those quickly made conclusions. At RW3 CultureWizard, we have developed several courses and webinars focused on approaching implicit bias, including “Overcoming Implicit Bias”, which you can learn more about here, and our highly-recommended webinar, “Am I Biased? Uncovering Implicit Bias in a Global Context,” led by our Principal and Director of Learning, Sean Dubberke, and the aforementioned Dr. Joel Brown from Pneumos.
We all have implicit bias, and this fact is not a judgement of any individual’s character. Rather, the more we get in the habit of acknowledging our biases as a collective society, the sooner we can begin the process of resolving – or even preventing – the harm that comes from unchecked bias.
Click here for a demo of our new course, “Overcoming Implicit Bias.”