Whether we want to admit it or not, everyone has biases — they are ubiquitous and part of the human condition. But we can counteract bias to change how we see and interact with others, personally and professionally.
That was the message of the webinar “Implicit Bias 101,” sponsored by the ABA Career Center. The presentation focused on how to increase our own awareness of the unconscious biases we each hold, and strategies to address those preconceptions.
Presenters were David Hoffman, a founding member of the Boston Law Collaborative LLC, a law firm devoted to conflict resolution and the practice of collaborative law; Audrey Lee, executive director of the BLC Institute, the mediation training and coaching arm of the Boston Law Collaborative; and Matt Thompson, an affiliate of BLC Institute.
Implicit bias includes both stereotypes (traits or characteristics associated with a category) and attitudes (evaluative feelings that are both positive and negative). “This is part of all of us,” Lee said. “It’s part of our human condition and something that we all carry.”
People have “mental shortcuts” that were inherited from our ancestors who had to survive in a hostile environment. “It’s how we’re hardwired,” Hoffman said. “The problem with stereotypes is that they can lead us to overgeneralize” about a group of people.
Stereotypes can show up as microaggressions — the brief and commonplace verbal, nonverbal, behavioral and environmental indignities based on race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, disability or other characteristics. Lee, who is Asian, gave an example of one by sharing a personal experience of how a neighbor she had never met assumed she was a Chinese-takeout delivery person because of her appearance.
Although we each have unconscious biases, there are ways we can reduce them. Some tips from the presenters:
- Raise your own awareness of bias. The nonprofit Project Implicit offers several tests to assess attitudes about race, gender, age, religion and more. Also, group exercises such as the Opportunity Walk — in which participants recognize through a series of questions how power and privilege have affected their lives, even if they are unaware of it. People who work together find out that the “distance that they may have between each other can be pretty dramatic and compelling as to where they started out in life,” Thompson said.
- Practice stereotype replacement. Imagine others in a positive light and replace stereotypes with positive examples.
- Increase opportunities to interact with others. Expand your circle to include people different from you (age, race, ethnicity, religion, etc.) and get to know them as individuals.
- Do some perspective taking. Learn about other cultures and people through books and films produced by them to see the world through their eyes.
“Of course, we have bias,” Hoffman said. “That’s our thumbprint and the thumbprint of society. But bias is malleable.”