Implicit Bias: The insidious nature of discrimination

66% of the British population, who have taken the Harvard Implicit Association Test (IAT), were found to have an underlying preference towards white people. What is implicit bias and how can it be combatted?

For the most part, people do not like to think that they judge or stereotype other social groups based on signifiers such as gender, race or religious identity. ‘I don’t see colour’ or ‘I don’t see race’ are popular refrains, which taken at face value seem well intentioned. However, the reality is that we all have internalised prejudices or stereotypes that we may not even realise. So, you may believe you ‘don’t see race’ or ‘don’t see colour’, yet might have been in the large group of people whose first thought when this interview went viral was that this professor’s wife was actually his nanny. This is just one example of collective stereotyping and it should make us stop and think about the effects and roots of these knee-jerk assumptions.

Unconscious or implicit bias refers to underlying attitudes or stereotypes that affect the way we relate or act towards certain social groups as a society. Studies have shown that our biases are formed throughout our lives dependent on society, culture and personal experiences that manifest in quick, reflex-like judgements, of others we form subconsciously. It is important to understand that these biases usually go undetected within the individual, who may otherwise perceive themselves as extremely progressive and forward thinking. Unfortunately, we acquire these thought processes unintentionally and despite what we may want to believe; they are deep-seated, ubiquitous and seep into all aspects of life including our personal relationships and the workplace.

This was highlighted in the recent Channel 4 documentary ‘Is Love Racist? The Dating Game’, where participants were unaware they were taking part in a dating experiment to ascertain whether their sexual ‘preferences’ were actually informed by an internalised racial bias. The documentary, presented by sociologist Emma Dabiri, found that entire racial groups were dismissed based on the individuals’ dating preferences. In fact, 35% of white people said they would never date a black person, compared with only 10% of black people saying the same about white people. One white participant in the documentary even declined swiping right to a man of colour stating ‘his nostrils are too flared’.

Although many people believe that these preferences, such as an inclination towards unflared nostrils, are just arbitrary personal preferences; it is important to ask ourselves how our personal preferences are formed. Once we accept the reality of implicit bias, it is easy to see that although not many people would believe that they are being actively racist, their ‘preferences’ aren’t just innocent and unique to them – they are actually informed by internalised societal biases unbeknownst to the individual.

This also plays out in other aspects of our lives with underlying preferences seeping into the work place. Before applicants can even enter the work force, those with minority ethic-sounding names on their CV are statistically less likely to get an interview. The BBC found that an applicant with a traditionally English name (Adam) was three times more likely to get a job interview than a candidate with a Muslim sounding name (Mohamed).

Unsurprisingly, it is visibly Muslim women wearing hijabs that face the most discrimination. As the most economically disadvantaged group in British society, the type of implicit bias they face is threefold; being Muslim, female and from an ethnic minority. This includes name discrimination in the same vein as the Adam/Mohamed test, but also underlying attitudes towards their religious dress and interview questions containing pre-conceived stereotypes of a Muslim woman’s primary role within the home. In this way, employers are making knee-jerk decisions which are informed by internalised biases that they are completely unaware of. It is important to recognise this in order to put a stop to the detrimental and tangible barriers it builds for minority groups which undermines freedom of opportunity.

Combatting biases you aren’t necessarily aware of is a difficult task, however major organisations are now realising the truth about unconscious bias and are taking steps to educate and lessen its impact. Google and Facebook now include implicit bias workshops into employee training programs to encourage diversity and equal opportunity. Moreover, many universities and work places have started enacting ‘name-blind recruitment’, anonymous hand ins and name-blind UCAS applications to try and eradicate the harmful effects of name discrimination and create a more level playing field.

On an individual basis, awareness of the reality of this issue is an important first step and actively trying to unpick your learned assumptions and stereotypes is a vital and deliberate choice for equality. You can take an Implicit Association Test (IAT) with Harvard’s Project Implicit® and see if you have any biases you don’t know about here.

At JAN Trust we are aware of employment discrimination and the effect it has on women from minority communities. We actively try and lessen the impact of these barriers through our services and programmes including CV and English language support to educate, build confidence and encourage career aspirations and opportunities. We believe in and work towards a society where marginalised women from minority communities have freedom of opportunity and the representation they deserve.

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About JAN Trust

JAN Trust (www.jantrust.org) is a multi award winning not for profit organisation formed in the late 1980′s. We are based in London and cater for women and youth from disadvantaged and marginalised communities. Our work and services are delivered locally, nationally and internationally. Our aim is to create positive and active citizens of society by educating, empowering and encouraging women and youth. We are dedicated to the cause of combating poverty, discrimination, abuse and social exclusion among Black, Asian, minority ethnic, refugee and asylum seeking (BAMER) women. JAN Trust is making a real difference in improving the lives of communities; promoting human and women's rights as well as community cohesion. We provide a range of services and our work has been recognised by a variety of dignitaries. Check out our website for statements from some of our supporters: http://www.jantrust.org/what-people-say
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