Knowing Yourself to Help Others

What do you see?  A vase or two faces?
What do you see? A vase or two faces?

Many people and organizations are becoming more interested in implicit or unconscious bias and the role it plays in our interaction with those who are different. Just like “mindbugs” that trick the brain into seeing things that aren’t there, we also have “social mindbugs” about people. We all have these unconscious biases.

Here is how it works: Our minds organize things into categories or “schemas”; for example cars, SUVs, pickup trucks, we see as “automobiles” that can be driven.

Jerry Kang, a UCLA law professor, says “we (also) categorize individuals by age, gender, race and role. Once an individual is mapped into that category, specific meanings associated with that category are immediately activated and influence our interaction with that individual.”

Many studies have demonstrated the negative effect implicit bias can have on the quality of life of people. For example, doctors are more likely to prescribe life-saving care to whites and managers are more likely to hire and promote members of their own in-group.

implicit_association_imageThese unconscious biases can be measured. The most well-known is the Implicit Association Test  that pairs positive or negative words with images of white and black people. Another is Implicitly, developed by Pete Jones, a UK psychologist.

In an effort to take its diversity and inclusion programs to “the next level” RBC  has introduced implicit bias measurements to its executive ranks.

But the bank shouldn’t stop there. All employees should be made aware of the “social mindbugs” they may have towards women, people with disabilities or people of colour.

It may be uncomfortable to find out we have negative biases towards a particular group of people but  awareness is the first step in changing our behaviour and ultimately our attitudes.

I was surprised — even embarrassed — at my own biases after taking both the IAT and the Implicitly test. But as a diversity and inclusion specialist it has helped me to be more reflective and has allowed me to help others in a more meaningful way.

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