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Unconscious Bias

Unconscious Bias (UB) is one part of the overall Diversity and Inclusion work across MUSC. Diversity and inclusion refers to the richness of human differences and the intentional engagement with each other through professional development, education, policy, and practice. Diversity and inclusion is about stories. It encourages us to notice who is at the table and who is missing from the discussion. As we become more diverse, we have more frequent encounters with what is unfamiliar. Consequently we may find ourselves more surprised by our own assumptions. Recognizing and intentionally working on our UB is the next step in encouraging and supporting healthy conversations, behaviors, and policy around MUSC.

UB—also known as implicit social cognition—refers to thoughts and feelings that are outside of conscious awareness and control. Although we all would like to believe that we are objective and capable of judging people solely on the basis of merit, over 20 years of research demonstrates that we generally fall short of our self-perceptions (see Banaji et al, 2003). There are many forms of cognitive biases which humans have developed out of the need to rapidly process new and extensive amounts of information. Unconscious bias can be particularly insidious because what we are unaware of we don’t address, and we may unintentionally promote. Increasing awareness of bias and assumptions and their role in evaluation is an important first step in minimizing their influence. There is a vast literature on unconscious bias. This page provides links to some online resources and a list of suggested strategies for minimizing bias in faculty recruitment.

Overview of the Concept of Unconscious Bias in Academic Medicine  

In this 30 minute video, AAMC Chief Diversity Officer Marc A. Nivet Ed.D. interviews Howard Ross, Founder & Chief Learning Officer of Cook Ross and author of Reinventing Diversity: Transforming Organizational Community to Strengthen People, Purpose and Performance. Dr. Nivet and Mr. Ross explore how and why diversity efforts plateau at institutions, what role unconscious bias plays in these situations, and discuss how to mitigate unconscious bias to increase the success of diversity initiatives.

Individual learning around identifying and addressing unconscious bias

Implicit Association Test (IAT)

Project Implicit is a non-profit organization founded by researchers from the University of Washington, Harvard University, and the University of Virginia.  Its goal is to educate the public about hidden biases and to function as a virtual laboratory for collecting date on unconscious bias. We encourage you to take the online implicit association tests and further explore possible personal biases. MUSC employees can access IAT through MyQuest for D&I Credit Hours.

Implicit Bias Training

The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity through Ohio State University is a recognized leader in the area of inequity and bias. We encourage you to explore the Kirwan Institute training modules around implicit bias.

Identifying and Interrupting Bias

Bias Interrupters is an evidence-based model developed through the Center for WorkLife Law that provides tools and solutions for interrupting the constant transmission of bias in basic business systems. This approach leads to more diverse and better performing workplaces. Bias Interrupters change systems, not people. Their website provides tools for both individuals and organizations. View their worksheet on Identifying and Interrupting Bias in Performance Evaluations. Consider exploring the Center for Worklife Law website.

 

Strategies for Minimizing the Impact of Bias in Recruitment 

Below is a list of specific interventions for addressing unconscious bias in the context of faculty recruitment. The strategies, adapted principally from WISELI's Searchingfor Excellence and Diversity® Guide (see pages 35-59), are grounded in research.

  • Start with recognizing the research on unconscious or implicit bias and consider the influence bias and assumptions may have on judgment and deliberation.
  • Search committee members can take an online Implicit Association Test (IAT) to investigate their own unconscious thoughts regarding some pervasive social stereotypes in our society.
  • Set ground rules for search committee meetings (e.g.: no interrupting other committee members).
  • In advance of a search, facilitate structured discussions around the academic criteria for evaluating candidates so that the search committee has a unified conception of what criteria to use, how to weigh them, and how to measure quality within a given domain.
  • Use structured evaluation templates for reviewing applications, job talk evaluations, and one-on-one interviews. These templates should include both quantitative rankings of job-relevant criteria and qualitative written information. For quantitative rankings, forms should provide instruction about what type of behavior/achievement corresponds to each level of score.
  • Spend sufficient time evaluating each applicant and minimize distractions when reviewing applicant materials.
  • Familiarize yourself with the literature on unconscious bias.
  • Be aware of your own potential biases.
  • Encourage others to call out incidents of bias.
  • Use inclusion rather than exclusion strategies in making selection decisions (e.g.: include for further consideration those applicants the search committee deems to be qualified as opposed to excluding those it deems to be unqualified).
  • Agree in advance on a set of interview questions that will be asked of each candidate.
  • Be prepared to defend each decision to advance or eliminate a candidate.