Why Implicit Bias Matters

Understanding implicit bias has been a hot topic over the last several years in corporations, universities, and a range of organizations.  Implicit bias educators seek to understand how implicit biases based on race, gender, sexual orientation, and other identities impact work environments, educational experiences, and hiring practices and influence decision-making. 

What is Implicit Bias?

In this particular context, implicit bias can be described as an unconscious belief system based on racial or gender stereotypes that inadvertently influences one’s attitudes and behaviors towards members of certain groups in ways in which one may not be aware.

These biases can lead to insidious behavior because most people do not want to believe that they would be biased or prejudiced against others based on group membership (e.g. African American, Latinx, Asian American, gender, sexual orientation, etc.).  Without the understanding and awareness that all human beings have biases in which we act on knowingly or unknowingly that can hurt others, issues stemming from implicit biases cannot be addressed.

We know that implicit bias can lead to racial profiling, stereotyping, and making assumptions without adequate data to support them.  These biases can and do have a major impact on the individuals and/or groups for which they are made.  For example, significant research has demonstrated that potential employers often demonstrate a preference for applicants with culturally-similar names to that of their own backgrounds which greatly influences which applicants get interviews and ultimately, a job.  Having implicit biases does not mean that diversity, equity, and inclusion are not valued, but it often means that we are unaware of how our biases impact our decisions and actions.  

Where do These Biases Come From?

The sources of implicit biases are vast.  They can include familial, peer, media, and educational influences just to name a few.  For example, if elementary school children do not have racially and ethically diverse teachers, this shapes their perception of who is smart, who can be a teacher, and what educational success looks like without them realizing that their lack of experience with teachers of color has potentially created a source of implicit bias. 

Be Open to Understanding Biases and Ways we are Influenced.

Obviously, a comprehensive review of implicit bias is far beyond the scope of this blog, but it is important to talk about the influence of bias and to explore our own biases.  In my own fields of counseling and psychology, we discuss these issues on a regular basis.  They can be painful to explore but also very healing because in examining our biases and opening ourselves up to the idea that we sometimes knowingly or unknowingly act on them, we can work to correct this.  Since some of the ways we have learned our biases were unintentional, the unlearning of them and changing our behavior has to be intentional.

Ways to Fight Implicit Bias

Some ways to fight implicit biases are: 

  • increase your awareness of your own biases and sources of these biases
  • increase your exposure to members of different groups and form interpersonal relationships with others who are different than you
  • focus on seeing people as individuals, as well as members of a group
  • consciously work on your own internalized stereotypes and critically question them
  • take time to explore how you are making decisions that impact others and be open to examining if bias might be occurring

About Dr. Katherine Helm

Katherine is a Chicagoland native, professor, and psychologist who enthusiastically wants to help people have strong mental health and healthy, fulfilling relationships. Katherine is a licensed psychologist with over 24 years of experience working with adolescents, adults, couples and groups in multiple clinical settings including college counseling, psychiatric hospitals, community mental health, and private practice. She has authored multiple books on working with couples, sex education for high school and college students, and mental health issues in the African American community. Currently, she is the Director of a Clinical Mental Health Graduate Programs for Lewis University. You can learn more about her areas of expertise at: drkhelmconsulting.com

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