Why We Must Understand and Address Implicit Bias


In this column, we introduce Jenna Nabors, communications intern and third-year student, who will be writing for the Diversity Digest this year. Share your thoughts about this article on Twitter at @NCStateOIED.

Checking a blind spot when driving allows the driver to see things outside their peripheral vision and helps to prevent collisions. Similarly, understanding and addressing implicit bias allows one to see biases they might possess that are not explicit, or often times realized, and help to promote diversity and equality.

Why is this important? Check out this recent article from the New York Times, Justice Is Blind. Sometimes, So Is Prejudice.

What is Implicit Bias?

Implicit bias is often defined as being prejudiced or unsupported judgments in favor of or against one thing, person or group compared to another in a way that is usually considered unfair. This kind of bias occurs automatically as the brain makes judgments based on past experiences, education and background. These biases can be seen in individuals or even in institutions, such as when faculty lunches are scheduled during religious holidays where people are fasting. “Everybody has unconscious bias,” says Beverly Jones Williams, director of outreach and education in OIED, “and we all need to think about what assumptions we are making and how this impacts others and ourselves.”

How to Measure Implicit Bias

Understanding and addressing biases you may possess are important so you can be aware of how you treat and interact with others, both consciously and subconsciously. The Implicit Association Test is often used to measure implicit bias in individuals. This test, offered online through Harvard University, measures the strength of associations between concepts (e.g., white people, gay people, old people) and evaluations (e.g., good, bad) or stereotypes (e.g., athletic). Essentially, it is easier to make a response when pairing items that you deem to be similar. The IAT score, then, is based on how long it takes a person to sort through the words and complete the pairings. Beyond just completing this assessment, taking the time to reflect on biases you may have is a good way of becoming more aware of implicit biases that may be playing a role in your life.

Effects of Implicit Bias

Implicit biases simultaneously advantage certain groups while disadvantaging others. These biases can be seen in university admissions, job recruiting and selection and even in the classroom. These biases greatly affect diversity in a number of ways.

How to Combat It

Various workshops, training, and seminars are available to become more aware of this issue and combat these biases. Having discussions about how implicit bias affects the classroom, workplace and everyday life is also a good way to address the problem. Overall, acknowledging and being aware of your implicit biases is like checking your blind spot — an important task to attempt to ensure the well-being of everyone.

Jenna Nabors is majoring in communication and international studies and is a Park Scholar.