Patricia Devine is a psychology professor and director of the Prejudice and Intergroup Relations Lab at the University of Wisconsin, Madison was a graduate student when she conducted a series of experiments that laid out the psychological case for implicit racial bias—”the idea, broadly, is that it’s possible to act in prejudicial ways while sincerely rejecting prejudiced ideas. She demonstrated that even if people don’t believe racist stereotypes are true, those stereotypes, once absorbed, can influence people’s behavior without their awareness or intent.”
Unconscious bias (sometimes referred to as subconscious bias or implicit bias) is something our brains naturally do to categorize information and make quicker decisions. Unfortunately, because our unconscious mind uses instinct, not analysis, it is fallible and, well, biased. We all have unconscious biases. They can be based on race, gender, weight, hair color, socio-economic status, job title, and more.
Because this is happening without our knowing…the unconscious part…some of our actions or decisions may not align with the person we think we are. Think about it. Here’s an example of how this can take shape in the workplace, “Are you biased? I am.” presented by Kristen Pressner during a TEDx Talk. During her talk, Kristen discusses that although she’s been a proponent of women leaders, she discovered her unconscious bias when she was asked for compensation increased from both a male leader and a female leader and what that looked like.
So how can you uncover and challenge your own unconscious biases?
In an article for The Atlantic, “Is This How Discrimination Ends?“, author Jessica Nordell discussed Patricia Devine’s continued work on eliminating curing people’s hidden prejudices. Devine said, “you have to be aware of it, motivated to change, and have a strategy for replacing it.”
Test Yourself. You can uncover your own biases by taking one or more of the Implicit Association Tests (IAT) tests designed by three scientists – Tony Greenwald (University of Washington), Mahzarin Banaji (Harvard University), and Brian Nosek (University of Virginia). As they describe on their site,
“The Implicit Association Test (IAT) measures attitudes and beliefs that people may be unwilling or unable to report. The IAT may be especially interesting if it shows that you have an implicit attitude that you did not know about. For example, you may believe that women and men should be equally associated with science, but your automatic associations could show that you (like many others) associate men with science more than you associate women with science.”
Be aware that there are challenges to the validity of this testing because of its low “test-retest reliability”, however it does bring awareness to one’s biases, which is a good start.
Mental acrobatics. Ok, really this isn’t that mind-bending but, Kristen Pressner discussed mentally flipping the person you’re thinking about with someone else. Her example flipped the common stereotypes of a man and a woman. When she flipped the male stereotypes to the woman, and vice versa, it felt a little off. If it feels off, that’s when you check yourself. So “flip it to test it”. Give it a try…here’s a visual example from @ManWhoHasitAll on Twitter:
Now ask yourself, what seems off? Why does it seem off? How can I challenge my assumptions?
Introspection. Be honest with yourself about the stereotypes that affect you. Reflect on the decisions you have made in different situations and analyze who was involved, why you made the decisions you made, what caused you to come to those decisions? If it was a different person (man or woman, race, etc.) would I have made a different decision? Why?
Exposure. Spend time with people who are different from you. Moira Forbes, explained in a Bulletproof podcast, “being around people from different backgrounds keeps you on your toes — it challenges your belief systems and pushes you to see things from another perspective. You’ll start to appreciate different viewpoints, become more accepting, and begin to respect people more for who they are, rather than for how you think they should be or act.
Exposing ourselves to these ideas, images, and words means learning, purposefully. It also means looking inward to understand where our unconscious bias is coming from and not only actively challenging our assumptions and unconscious biases, but working to replace them as well.