In March 2018, the staff members at PRA completed the Harvard Implicit Bias Test as a part of our continued efforts to improve the services we provide to communities and states across the country. The purpose of this exercise was to raise awareness about biases—we all have them—so our staff members, as individuals, could reflect and be aware of them, allowing us all the space to work to minimize the effect these biases could potentially have both professionally and personally. As a company, we understand the ever-present attention to ‘otherness’ based on race, gender, and socio-economic status, and we feel it is important to always reflect and strive to lessen the potential harm we might inflict.  While doing so, we can increase the beneficial impact we have on all humans in the world.

What Is Implicit Bias?

Implicit biases are attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.  These biases include favorable and unfavorable assessments and are activated involuntarily without awareness or control.  These biases are different from known biases we might try to hide because of social and/or political correctness.  Implicit biases are not easily accessible through introspection and are therefore easy for individuals to pass off as not being “real. That is one of the challenges!

Key Characteristics of Implicit Biases

  • Implicit biases are pervasive and everyone possesses them—even people with commitments to impartiality, such as teachers, police officers, and judges
  • Implicit and explicit biases are related but are not mutually exclusive—at times they reinforce each other
  • Implicit associations do not necessarily align with our declared beliefs or even reflect stances we would explicitly endorse
  • We generally hold implicit biases that favor our own ingroup, though research has shown that we can still hold implicit biases against our ingroup

Common Examples of the Effect of These Hidden Biases:

  • When doctors are shown patient histories and asked to make judgments, they are much less likely to recommend helpful procedures to black patients, even when those medical files are statistically identical to white patients
  • When white people and black people are shopping for used cars, black shoppers are offered higher initial prices
  • All-white juries are more likely to convict a black defendant than a white one, but when a jury has one black member they convict both at the same rate
  • Often women or members of underrepresented groups make points in meetings only to be ignored, but when a white male makes the same point later, they are acknowledged and applauded
  • Speakers or instructors often fail to notice or call on women or members of other underrepresented groups and allow men or white people to talk without raising their hands more often
  • In educational settings, instructors often assume students from certain backgrounds or social groups have differing intellectual abilities and/or ambitions. Instructors in numerous educational settings assume that students from certain backgrounds are satisfied with lower achievement levels
  • Instructors expect students who speak with certain accents to be poor writers
  • Students with substandard writing abilities (due to language) are often stereotyped as lacking intellectual ability

The good news is that implicit biases are malleable and can be gradually unlearned through a variety of debiasing techniques!

Social psychologist and prejudice expert Patricia Devine views implicit bias as a “form of habit” and states that becoming aware of the habit is the necessary first step. Much like the 1st Step in 12-Step Fellowships, once you have admitted you have a “problem,” you can use tools and methods to “fix” the issue. A few of these methods are described below:

  • When assessing the behavior of someone from a stigmatized group, focus on concrete positive and negative factors of the actual circumstances rather than relying on ‘gut’ feelings
  • Notice when your responses, decisions, or behaviors might be influenced by bias or stereotypes and make an intention to think positive thoughts when encountering people from those stigmatized groups
  • Imagine people who violate expected stereotypes in a positive way and practice thinking about these positive examples
  • Make an effort to assess and think about members of stereotyped groups as individuals and remember their individual traits and how they differ from stereotypic expectations

While implicit biases are a part of all of our lives, it is important we all work together to ensure that everyone in society is treated fairly and can benefit from the vast gifts life has to bring!