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Recognizing unconscious bias and what we can do about it

(L-R) Nicole Roach, Catrina Salama and Kenneth Pruitt talked about recognizing unconscious bias, how to manage it and how that can help further understanding and inclusion.
Lara Hamdan | St. Louis Public Radio
(L-R) Nicole Roach, Catrina Salama and Kenneth Pruitt talked about recognizing unconscious bias, how to manage it and how that can help further understanding and inclusion.

Workplaces and institutions are implementing un-bias trainings to promote inclusivity. According to Kenneth Pruitt, director of diversity training at Diversity Awareness Partnership (DAP), training without follow-ups or contextualization can backfire.

Pruitt joined host Don Marsh on Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air alongside Catrina Salama, DAP education and training manager, and Nicole Roach, associate vice president for diversity and inclusion and senior director for community engagement at Webster University. They talked about recognizing unconscious bias and how that can help further understanding and inclusion.

Listen to the full discussion:

Roach described unconscious bias as “unconscious feelings and judgments that one has towards another person or group [of people].” Those judgments influence decisions and interactions with people and in situations.

She differentiated between unconscious and intentional bias. The latter is when a person is aware of their judgments, but when it comes to unconscious bias, a person’s decision-making is influenced by their past experiences and upbringing without their realization.

Roach gave the example of what can happen when a human resources practitioner reviews resumes.

“Say for instance, I see a certain zipcode on the resume, I’m going to pass judgment or I’m going to have some type of feeling that may conjure up within that causes me to not want to call this person or to say, ‘hmm, they might not be what we’re looking for; they may not be a good fit,’” Roach said.

Pruitt said unconscious bias is 100 percent common.

“If you are a human being with a brain, like we like to say at DAP, then you have unconscious bias,” Pruitt said. He encourages people to understand the underlying bias as a scientific fact, rather than an accusation or “indictment.”

 “I’m finding that people are more resistant to the idea of being biased or having stereotypes because [people think] that if you have bias, that means you’re admitting to being racist or sexist or something along those lines,” Salama said. She explained that people who accept their biases can control their behavior. “It’s not a label, it’s just an understanding.”

Since bias is so embedded in how people think and interact, much of it goes unnoticed. The first step to recognizing and adjusting to it is accepting the bias and understanding that it will take intentionality, time and energy to un-notice it.

Not all unconscious biases are bad, Salama explained. 

“I have a lot of biases and unconscious biases that allow me to be a very effective, efficient person,” she said. “But I also know in certain situations, I’m more susceptible to using bias. That awareness alone allows me to stop myself in the moment and think, ‘what is the narrative I’m building behind this interaction that may not be true?”

Roach said Webster University will provide training in bias recognition at their third annual “Diversity and Inclusion Conference” on Feb. 28 and March 1. The sessions, which are open to the public, will also address topics of hate speech, hate crimes, the criminal justice system and gender in media.

Related Event:

What: Webster University’s 3rd Annual Diversity & Inclusion Conference
When: Feb. 28 and March 1, 2018, Registration at 8:30 a.m. each day
Where: Luhr Building at Webster University, Big Bend and Edgar Road

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex HeuerEvie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.