White/Innocent. Black/Criminal. Men/Clever. Women/Nurturing. If you’ve ever taken an implicit bias test or training, you’ll recognize pairs like these as examples of the unconscious associations our brains make about social categories. While social psychologists Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald first came up with the concept (which they called implicit social cognition) in the 1990s, only in the last decade has the idea taken hold in popular culture. Implicit bias has increasingly been identified as an important issue in schools, police departments, social services, and workplaces across the country.
As a diversity and inclusion consultant, I am frequently asked by nonprofits, schools, and corporations to do “implicit bias trainings.” The formula for these workshops is simple: They typically start with a brief talk on the negative effects of implicit bias on productivity, company culture, and diversity, followed by examples of some of the most insidious racist, sexist, homophobic, and transphobic biases and their far-reaching impacts. Participants are given tips and tricks for combatting not only their own biases, but the institutionalized biases baked into their organizations. Finally, the consultant exhorts all participants to stay vigilant, keep fighting, and work toward a better world.