Unconscious bias – also referred to as implicit bias – is a person’s attitude or beliefs about others that occurs without the person being aware of it. These biases can come from past experiences, learned assumptions, or social perceptions. And they can affect how you think about certain people or groups.
“Bias” is not a dirty word.
We are all biased because our upbringing and our environment influence how we see the world. Everyone has biases, even the most inclusive, philanthropic person you know has preconceived notions about people or groups. Even people who identify with negatively viewed groups can have biases towards that negative view. It’s just an inevitable part of being human.
And using biases helps us explain what’s happening around us. Humans process approximately 200,000 times more information each second unconsciously than consciously. So categorizing situations and people at rapid speed helps us make sense of and automatically process information. Therefore it’s no surprise that biases creep into our subconscious thinking.
So what can we do about it?
How to overcome implicit biases
There are several steps we can take to overcome these implicit biases. It takes time and dedication to undo our learned attitudes and beliefs. But it is possible to make progress.
1. Awareness matters
Recognizing you have biases is not an easy task. They are – by name – unconscious and therefore difficult to identify. You can take an IAT (Implicit Association Test) at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html to learn more about your implicit biases. Or do research about what it means to have an implicit bias.
The more you know about why you think a certain way, the more you can actively work to undo that bias.
2. Representation matters
Often our learned assumptions come from a lack of exposure to that particular group or people. The more we can reach out for different viewpoints and include a variety of groups and people in our circles, the more diverse and inclusive our perspective will be.
3. Action matters
Just because you have an unconscious bias, doesn’t mean you have to act on it. Similarly, if you have become aware of a bias, you can take positive action towards undoing that bias. Such as repeating positive features, behaviors, or characteristics of a given group or person so your brain alters its perception to be more favorable.
If we work hard on awareness, representation, and action, we can help make a positive impact. Undoing unconscious bias is not always easy, but it is absolutely essential.