Student blog for MGMT 453- Human Resource Management
Understanding Implicit Bias in the Workplace
How Can Knowing Our Own Bias Help Us Be Better Professionals?
When considering implicit bias, people tend to choose one of two schools of thought; either they don’t believe that they have any bias against anyone, or they’re aware but maybe not sure what to do about it. What do you do about implicit bias? While society cannot undo its past wrongs, we as a whole can relearn how to think about others. That process starts with acknowledging that every single person has some type of implicit bias towards someone else. I recently took Harvard’s Implicit Association Test (or IAT for short) on my personal associations between career and family. My results were somewhat inconclusive, and stated, “Your data suggest little or no automatic association between Female and Male with Career and Family..” (implicit.harvard.edu). While I didn’t show measurable bias on this test, I don’t know if my results were to be the same in other categories. With that being said, I feel like it’s important to note that regardless of your specific results, the point is that you are made aware of your bias, which is the first step in dismantling it.
In an article from Scientific American, the authors suggest that individual results are not fortune tellers of predestined actions, nor do they predict behavior of any kind. Tests like the IAT merely bring to light the way our brain forms patterns and categories, some of which can be harmful if not counteracted (How to Think About Implicit Bias, 2018). In the workplace, IAT tests won’t tell an employer if a potential new hire will make racially insensitive comments, but may indicate how a company or department as a whole tends to think about people not in the cis, white (and usually male) majority.
That leads us to the second step of handling implicit bias. Once an individual has recognized that they do have bias towards certain groups of people, it’s important that they consider it when making decisions. For example, if a hiring manager is deciding between two resumes that have relatively equal credentials, will they pick they white sounding name over the more “ethnic” name because it sounds more “professional” or easy to pronounce? Or will a supervisor give a promotion to a male employee over his female coworker because she just back from maternity leave and is now less available than a young bachelor? Even in situations where one may not immediately tie race, gender, sexuality, etc. to a decision, the implicit association is frequently there.
For changes like these to happen in professional settings, it will require a baseline of integrity by employees and a supportive, proactive human resources team. Many cases of discrimination fly under the radar, going unnoticed and unaddressed until the dam finally breaks. Holding coworkers to high standards and creating a corporate culture of accountability and open mindsets are good places to start to being unlearning behaviors that have been going unchecked. There is a difference between calling our peers out, and calling them up to high standards. Though it may seem scary or hard to achieve, the only way to reduce implicit bias in the workplace to to acknowledge it and consciously work to avoid it.
If it were you, what would you do?
Payne, Keith. “How to Think about ‘Implicit Bias’.” Scientific American, Scientific American, 27 Mar. 2018, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-to-think-about-implicit-bias/.