About Implicit Bias Awareness Month


"Diversity, equity and inclusion in our workforce matter.  Across the VPFA portfolio, we strive to meet the needs of our campus recognizing that our campus comprises one of the most diverse communities in our region. I strongly endorse the recommendation of the VPFA diversity committee that all employees in our portfolio engage in training that supports diversity and inclusion through understanding of our own implicit biases." - Jamie Moffitt, VPFA & CFO

Finance and Administration (VPFA) Implicit Bias Awareness Month (6x6 grid of dots in six colors)

Our "Implicit Bias Awareness" project ran through February 2018 and had two components:

(1) a computer-based self assessment through "Harvard Project Implicit", and
(2) in-person activities throughout the February 2018 as well as institution-wide training on "Understanding Implicit Bias".
This project provided a lens to examine racial diversity as well as to understand barriers that exist for communities of color and those based on gender, sexuality, and disability.  We acknowledge the historical role implicit bias has played in the workforce, and together seek to learn how our biases--as a unit and as individuals--impact our performance in the workplace.  Lastly, our focus on this topic celebrates every member of our team as we work together to provide the highest level of service possible to our campus community.
The first-ever portfolio-wide Implicit Bias Awareness Month saw over 60% of employees in Finance and Administration engage with the topic. Close to 370 people attended an implicit bias training on campus, participated in events hosted by the diversity committee, and/or elected to complete an online self assessment. In fact, more than 130 people engaged with the topic of implicit bias in multiple ways, often attending an event and committing to doing a self assessment online.
We received a variety of constructive comments and suggestions from across our diverse portfolio. A number of these will be taken up by the diversity committee and incorporated into initiatives going forward.  Key comments received include:
  • Requests for training sessions on implicit bias throughout the year
  • Suggestions that search committee members be required to participate in implicit bias training
  • Requests for increased efforts to attract and retain qualified employees representing minority groups in leadership roles across the portfolio
  • Suggestions that units lacking diversity be appropriately supported to successfully and sustainably improve in this area
  • Some employees expressed reluctance to complete an implicit association self assessment because of doubts about the anonymity of the test and results—the diversity committee redoubled efforts to ensure employees understood the completely anonymous nature of the self assessment, including adding language to the online FAQs
Overwhelmingly, participants expressed appreciation for the implicit bias initiative and gratitude for opportunities to participate in trainings, events, self assessments, and informal dialogues with co-workers. If you have any follow-up comments, please contact vpfa@uoregon.edu.

Implicit bias is a very important issue—one that affects us and how we interact with the world every day. The implicit bias resources and FAQs remain available; hopefully they will act as reminders to question our actions and choices and to try to remove the conditions where our unconscious preferences can unintentionally adversely affect others.

Implicit Bias Awareness month is complete but you may take a self assessment at any time through Harvard's Project Implicit (available in multiple languages). 
  • What is implicit bias?
Over the past several decades, social science research has revealed that even the most well-intentioned people experience some degree of “implicit bias,” the unconscious and often subtle associations we make between groups of people and stereotypes about those groups. This phenomenon is distinct from “explicit bias,” the overt prejudice that most people associate with racism, sexism and other forms of bigotry. (Source of this response: DOJ)

Put another way, implicit biases are the automatic, mental shortcuts that humans use to process information and make quick decisions. These shortcuts can be useful when making decisions when we don’t have a lot of time or information on-hand, but can get in our way and have unintended consequences in the workplace and in the community, especially in situations where objective decision-making is important.

Understanding implicit bias and overcoming it when it really matters—such as acknowledging a great idea, or hiring and retaining great coworkers—is important at the university and in our portfolio. We want to create an environment in which diverse points of view and contributions are encouraged and valued.

  • What does the research say about implicit bias?
Implicit bias is, to some extent, a part of human nature... As the research shows, bias starts with our automatic tendency to categorize individuals: we employ mental shortcuts to make sense of the world and this process can involve categorizing people we do not know according to perceived or assumed group membership. We then attribute to these individuals the stereotypes associated with their group. This does not require [hostility]; it requires only knowledge of the stereotype. (Source of this response: DOJ)
  • Does implicit bias training work?
A handful of recent popular press articles have claimed that research proves unconscious bias training doesn’t work. That’s not quite right. What research does indicate is that (1) traditional diversity and inclusion trainings don’t work, and (2) certain types of messages about stereotypes — for example, telling people that everyone engages in stereotyping without giving people strategies to manage the effects of stereotyping — aren’t helpful and can even backfire.
Of course, not all unconscious bias training is the same. Some trainings may be poorly designed and inconsistent with research, while others may be well-designed, focused not only on raising awareness about unconscious bias but on introducing strategies for managing it. For example, training can educate participants on the benefits of structured interviews and how to conduct them, or it can provide strategies for limiting the effects of bias in team communication. But even the most effective training will not reduce bias or improve outcomes on its own. It’s only by putting these strategies into practice that organizations will see a positive impact. Ultimately, well-designed training should be only one small piece of broader efforts for designing more diverse, inclusive organizations. (Source for this response: DOJ)
  • Is implicit bias the only barrier to diversity and inclusion in organizations?
No. It’s one of many barriers, including explicit bias (structural and individual racism, for example), discrimination, harassment, belonging uncertainty, a lack of psychological safety, and the absence of an inclusive workplace culture, to name a few.
There are many articles written about this very important topic. One such article suggests that individuals and organizations working to build more inclusive workforces can identify the barriers affecting their organizations specifically by analyzing quantitative and qualitative data (including hiring funnel data, promotion rates, compensation, performance scores, and employee perceptions of the culture), and can focus their efforts on addressing the most immediate barriers first. (Source for this response: Inclusion Insights)
FAQs about Harvard’s “Project Implicit” (also known as the "Harvard Implicit Association Test" (IAT))
  • What does the online Project Implicit assessment look like?
When you click the link to Harvard's Project Implicit, you will first see some information about implicit bias and the assessments. The following screen provides you with a choice of different assessments. You can choose from various factors to explore: weight, age, skin tone, gender, religion, ability vs. disability, particular ethnicities or cultures, etc. You may be asked a series of questions about you for Harvard’s research purposes either before or after you take an assessment. These include sex and gender, birth month and year, race and ethnicity, and your level of experience with the Harvard assessments. Before you take an assessment, you will be provided instructions about how to use your keyboard to take the assessment, and the assessment will begin. At the end, you will be provided the results of your chosen assessment.
  • How does Project Implicit work?

A large body of research indicates that individuals can reduce their implicit biases or mitigate their effects in part simply by acknowledging they exist. In addition, scientists have shown that implicit biases can be reduced through positive contact with stereotyped groups and through counter-stereotyping, whereby individuals are exposed to information that is the opposite of the cultural stereotypes about the group. Moreover, social psychologists have found that with information and motivation, people can implement “controlled” (unbiased) behavioral responses that override automatic associations and biases. (Source of this response: DOJ)

  • How does Project Implicit measure implicit (unconscious) attitudes?
The [Project Implicit self assessment] asks you to pair two concepts (e.g., young and good, or elderly and good). The more closely associated the two concepts are, the easier it is to respond to them as a single unit. So, if young and good are strongly associated, it should be easier to respond faster when you are asked to give the same response to these two. If elderly and good are not so strongly associated, it should be harder to respond fast when they are paired. This gives a measure of how strongly associated the two types of concepts are. The more associated, the more rapidly you should be able to respond. The [Project Implicit self assessment] is one method for measuring implicit or automatic attitudes. There are other methods, using different procedures that have been investigated in laboratory studies. (Source of this response: Project Implicit)
  • What does it mean if I get a test result that I don't believe describes me or, if I take the same test twice, I get different results each time?
You may be giving the [self assessment] more credit than it deserves! These [assessments] are not perfectly accurate by any definition of accuracy. Normally, outcomes will change at least slightly from one taking to another. You may discover this if you repeat any of the [assessments]. We encourage repeating any [assessment] for which the outcome surprises you. If the outcome repeats, the result is definitely more trustworthy than is the first result alone. If the outcome varies, it is best to average the different results. However, if the outcome varies widely from one taking to another (something that is unusual) we suggest that you just regard the set of results as 'inconclusive'. Besides normal variation in the reliability of assessment, the [Project Implicit self assessment] is also known to be malleable based on differences in the social setting and recent experience. These factors will influence the consistency of measurement across occasions… (Source: Project Implicit)
  • What should I do if I find it difficult to associate members of my in-group or myself with ‘negative’ words?

There are a number of different assessments from which to choose. If you are uncomfortable associating your in-group or yourself with negative words—even for part of the time—please select an assessment that does not include your in-group, or one that might be less personal. 

If you do select an assessment that involves members of one of your in-groups, you will only be associating that group with positive/negative words for some of the time. Each assessment is designed so that for part of the time you are associating ‘positive’ words with a group and part of the time you are associating ‘negative’ words with the same group. Some of the assessments do not involve explicitly positive or negative words at all. For example, one assessment (Gender-Career IAT) asks you to relate concepts of family and career with the genders female and male; another assessment (Asian IAT) examines associations between foreign or U.S. places and Asian-American or European American faces.

If you become uncomfortable with any part of an assessment, you may stop at any time. You may choose to re-take it later or try a different assessment. Some discomfort is to be expected as we examine aspects of our human nature. However, the assessments are voluntary and are completely anonymous. 

There is no way for the university to find out any of the following information:

  1. Whether you have taken an assessment.
  2. If you took an assessment, which assessment you selected.
  3. If you completed an assessment, what the results were.

Our Implicit Bias Awareness Month project was designed to help raise awareness about implicit (unconscious) preferences. Raising our awareness of the topic is far more important than the results of any assessment. 

If you feel like the self assessments are simply not a constructive option for you, consider engaging individually with some of the online resources we’ve posted.

  • What if the results are very surprising or upsetting?
You may be giving the [self assessment] more credit than it deserves! These [assessments] are not perfectly accurate by any definition of accuracy. However, the Employee Assistance Program is available to any employee wishing to discuss the discomfort caused by their results. And, remember, your results are private. You don’t have to share them with anyone and no one at the university will see them.
Having implicit biases does not make you a bad person; it is part of being human. Understanding more about your potential implicit biases makes you a more self-aware human. Having an implicit bias does not mean that you are necessarily engaging in biased behavior; it simply means you have the potential to behave in a biased manner. Acknowledging your implicit biases gives you the opportunity to consider ways to raise your daily consciousness and investigate how you respond to and behave with different people. (Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education)
For anyone interested to learn more about implicit bias, diversity and inclusion, there are a range of resources, including videos, articles, and activities here.
  • Now that I have learned about my implicit attitudes, what should I do?

Regardless of the specific results you received, the results were probably a bit of a surprise; implicit preferences by nature are preferences of which we are not consciously aware. It is not clear if implicit biases can be reduced or eliminated. Instead, we have to learn to live with the knowledge and try to deny these preferences the chance to operate. Ideas include:

  • Removing names from resumes to be reviewed
  • Trying to compensate for implicit preferences (make extra efforts to learn about and from people you do not have implicit preferences for)
  • Engaging with media (TV, movies, books, magazines) that portray minority group members in positive or counter-stereotypical ways

 (Source: Project Implicit)

  • Does Project Implicit collect personally identifiable information about me?
Most of the assessments begin by asking for personal information--but not information that identifies you specifically. This includes sex and gender, birth month and year, race and ethnicity, and your level of experience with the Harvard assessments. Although you may decline to answer these questions, the Harvard research team uses this information for their study. None of the information collected through the assessment process is shared with the university. Furthermore, the University of Oregon is in no way affiliated with Harvard's Project Implicit.
  • I have already taken a Harvard assessment in the past. Is there any value to taking another one?

The Harvard research team actually encourages repeating the assessment for any factor for which your results surprised you. Plus, there are 14 different versions of the self assessment examining various factors by which to evaluate yourself—try a new one.

Furthermore, some researchers have likened implicit bias to a habit. To break a habit, one must first maintain an awareness of the habit, and then be attentive to and activate strategies to break the habit. Taking some of the self assessments periodically can help us to maintain an awareness of our implicit biases, which will ultimately help reduce the appearance of unintentional bias in our decisions, interactions, etc. (Related resource: here)

  • Where can I find other resources or activities on campus?

The VPFA diversity committee has identified some additional resources for individual exploration: here

  • Who can I contact if I have questions or need help?

Feel free to contact any member of our diversity committee. The list of members can be found on this page: /diversity. You can also send an email to vpfa@uoregon.edu.