Yesterday I took part in a workshop on implicit (unconscious) bias--it was fascinating & engaging, and I'm so glad I went. The statistics on implicit bias are depressing but so eye-opening. One that jumped out at me was a study that showed how the representation of women authors in an academic journal increased bu 30% after anonymous review was introduced. Implicit bias has been linked to police killings of unarmed African Americans, discriminatory hiring practices, and even online dating racism.
A recent BBC article discusses the debates surrounding implicit bias, without really coming to any solid conclusions, but I think it's a very important concept. The article mentions how Hillary Clinton referred to implicit bias in one of the debates--and that Donald Trump misinterpreted it as her claiming that everybody is racist. That's the kind of rhetoric that gets Trump supporters riled up--they equate the complex concept of implicit bias with simple, ugly racism, and then get defensive when they're told they have implicit biases. Research suggests that 98% of people have implicit biases. It's not the same as racism.
Obviously, after the workshop, I wanted to check out my biases--I took one on gender and careers and another on age. I had a moderate association of men-careers and women-families, like about 1/3 of people, and a moderate preference of old people over young people, like only 2% of respondents. Harvard's Implicit Association Test is here, but bear in mind that knowing what your implicit biases doesn't really address the problem. Research has shown that awareness doesn't improve behavioural outcomes, as you might think it would. The key to making real progress is systemic change--anonymisation of CVs and applications, anonymised marking, diversification of the curriculum, etc.
I did notice some encouraging signs from the workshop, like the fact that there were a few white guys in the room, and that when asked to brainstorm groups that might be affected by implicit biases, we came up with an impressive range, acknowledging how widespread and important the problem is. It wasn't just women and POC, but those with disabilities, people from lower socioeconomic classes, people with mental health disorders, religious groups, occupations, age (youth and elderly are both subject to implicit bias), etc.
This morning I came across a great quote that made me think about the progress that's been made--how important it is to understand and appreciate it, and to fiercely protect it from attempts to rollback that progress. It's from M. J. Hardman, a linguistic anthropologist and Emeritus Professor at University of Florida. She also happened to be the first Fulbright student to Peru in 1958, and held a Fulbright lectureship to Bolivia in 1965. She's had an absolutely fascinating career and personal life, and I'm trying to find a place for her in my Fulbright women book chapter edits.
"My greatest fear is that the young do not know what it has cost us to open the doors through which they now said. There is always the danger that those doors may close behind them."
(Hardman, M.J., 2013, On the 50th Anniversary of the Publication of The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, Women and Language, 36(1), pp. 57-61).