How your biases may affect being inclusive

One of the barriers to being inclusive is your own bias: your preferences to favour one person or thing to another. We all have biases.

Bias can be positive or negative. For instance, during election campaigns we often hear accusations that the media are biased towards or biased against a certain party or candidate.

Bias can also be conscious or unconscious. For example, a sports fan is consciously showing bias when they cheer their team on. Unconscious bias refers to a bias that we are unaware of, and which happens outside our control. It is a bias that happens automatically and is triggered by our brain making quick judgements and assessments of people and situations, influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experience.

Understanding unconscious bias

The Royal Society have created a video to explain unconscious bias and their approach to lessening the impact in their recruitment processes. They have four key actions:

  • Deliberately slow down your decision making.
  • Reconsider reasons for making a decision.
  • Question cultural sterotypes.
  • Monitor each other for unconscious bias.

One of the key things you will have noted in the video is how we automatically make a split-second judgement on everyone we see. Neuroscience suggests that our ‘cave person brain’ makes 200,000 operations for every single ‘thought’ made by our ’modern brain’. This means that it is easy to default to a decision based on first impressions which can be biased. This could lead you to make assumptions about your audience of young people on the basis of how they look, how much they talk or how they speak, and lead you into behaviour that is not inclusive.

When working with young people, you will need to go beyond your fast thinking brain, which will have made assumptions, and appeal to better logic in your slow thinking brain. In effect, focusing our modern brain to use logic to overcome gut reactions and address bias.

Optional activity

Project Implicit from Harvard University provides implicit associate tests (IAT) to help individuals explore their own biases. The tests are free, but do require you to agree to how the data will be used before you can access.

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This article is from the free online course:

Inspiring Young People In STEM: Resources and Diversity

National STEM Learning Centre