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Exploring Implicit Bias

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The following collection of resources is a five-step guide on implicit bias assembled by the Seaver Diversity Council at Pepperdine University. Faculty and staff on hiring committees are required to complete the Implicit Bias course. Those not on a hiring committee and not in need of a certificate of completion, are invited to work through this brief material as a way of initiating a conversation on how hidden bias may affect the hiring process at Pepperdine.

Five-Step Guide

  Step 1: Review the Definition (1 min)

Implicit bias is the term used to describe a predisposition we have that we are not consciously aware of—but which may nonetheless affect our perceptions and decisions. Even those who are explicitly in favor of diversity and equity in the workplace may exhibit unconscious bias for or against a subset of people (in terms of race, gender, sexuality, age, body type, etc.) as a result of embedded societal norms. Studies have shown that implicit bias can have an impact on the hiring process (including how a job is advertised and who is interviewed). When serving on a hiring committee, it is important to become more aware of our hidden biases so that we can actively work toward a more diverse and equitable community.

Optional: For other websites that offer an extended definition and description of implicit bias, see:

  Step 2: Take an Implicit Association Test (10 min)

Researchers in the area of implicit bias have developed a series of online tests designed to measure your potential implicit bias in a particular area. The tests measure how quickly you can make associations between stereotypically positive and negative things with theoretically neutral groups of people. We invite you to take a test in an area of your choice (there is a wide range). The test should take about 10 minutes. You may be surprised by the results.

The tests are hosted by Project Implicit at Harvard University and can be taken here.

  Step 3: Read an Article (10 min)

As an introduction for our specific context (hiring in an educational institution), we recommend a short article entitled "Hidden Forces: The Power of Implicit Bias and Its Impact on Hiring," written by Donna Orem, the president of the National Association of Independent Schools (an organization of non-profit private schools). The three-page article addresses specific instances of how implicit bias has affected hiring practices in the past and discusses factors to consider in order to mitigate implicit bias in future hiring decisions.

Optional: There are many other resources that explain implicit bias and provide examples. Here are a handful of other articles that may be helpful if you would like to learn more:

  Step 4: Watch a Video (6—17 min)

The following TEDx talk delivered by Valerie Alexander, the CEO of a tech company, offers several helpful illustrations of how implicit bias enters into the workplace and suggests ways of actively combating it. We invite you to watch it and consider how her examples can apply to your context.

Optional: If you prefer a shorter video or wish to explore further illustrations of implicit bias, consider the following additional resources:

  Step 5: Discuss the Next Steps with Your Hiring Committee

After becoming more aware of implicit bias, discuss what you learned with the other members of your hiring committee. Consider what active steps your committee can take to reduce the presence of hidden bias in your particular search, interview, and hiring process. Feel free to explore the additional resources listed above and below to learn more about hidden bias.

Optional: Want to read more? The creators of the Implicit Association Test have summarized their findings for a non-specialist audience in the book:

  • Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People, by Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald (A copy is available in Pepperdine's Payson Library.)