Terri Howard, FEI Senior Director

Over the last year, there have been a series of critical incidents around the country stemming from what seem to be behaviors generated by implicit bias.

Just the other day, a woman was harassed by a man in the park because she had on a t-shirt which displayed the Puerto Rican flag. The man repeatedly shouted at the woman to leave the United States and return to Puerto Rico. Now, while most of us clearly understand that Puerto Rico is actually an American territory, the man in the park simply did not see it this way.

Another example occurred recently at a pharmacy where an employee called law enforcement on a customer who he thought was attempting to commit coupon fraud. The customer was visibly upset, shaking at the thought of the situation escalating.

Both serve as examples of situations where our biases are allowed to impact our behavior. Fortunately, both incidents also ended calmly without further escalation – but there are many more situations that have not ended so peacefully.

Often, these biases are rooted in our subconscious; we’re unaware that they are actually leading our behaviors. But the reality is that we see the world through a lens created by our own experiences, our relationships and our upbringing. This lens then shapes the way we view not only the world, but everyone in it.

Bias is human, but it is also fixable. There are several things we can do to ensure our biases do not negatively impact our behavior:

Understand that bias is real. It’s not a question of whether or not we are biased, but rather what are our biases. Understanding this reality is the first step in recognizing that our biases might dictate our behaviors.

Counter the stereotypes. Actively look for ways to negate what you think you know. If you believe “all” about anyone or anything, you should look for the exceptions in your premise.

Learn a new language to describe people and situations. When describing someone you have just met, do you describe them by race? If so, think of other characteristics by which to describe them. The more you do, the more you will learn to do.

Get educated. Learn more about implicit bias including data and examples that help identify the presence of racial profiling; understanding how implicit bias affects individuals; and how you can neutralize the impact of bias on decision making.

Implicit bias can lead to stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination. By acknowledging our biases, however, we can exert control over both our behaviors and our treatment of others.

Learn more about implicit bias, as well as training opportunities on addressing implicit bias in the workplace, by contacting FEI.