Office of Equity and Inclusion cautions dangers of bias in new workshop series
On Wednesday afternoon, a small group of university community members — students, staff and faculty alike — gathered to discuss an issue that many shy away from: their biases.
That day, the Office of Equity and Inclusion (OEI) hosted a workshop titled “Understanding Bias Throughout Your Career,” the third installment in a series of diversity discussions held by the office, which have been taking place over the first few weeks of the semester.
According to an advertisement, the goal of the workshop was to promote a better understanding of how personal biases affect people throughout every stage in their careers, and how individuals can effectively mitigate the impact of those biases. The leader of the workshop and Director for Diversity Education, Adam Foley, described the discussion as a first step towards changing behaviors.
“The workshop is a way to get us thinking, to start considering the implications of bias,” Foley said. “Bias is most often unconscious and difficult to control. After all, it’s embedded in our psyche.”
However, Foley noted, this does not mean reforming our biases is impossible. It just takes work. The majority of people do not display what is known as explicit bias, attitudes that are entirely conscious and arise as a result of a perceived threat. A prime example is the hateful rhetoric often found on social media platforms such as Twitter, stemming from explicit biases against certain groups of people.
What is more common is implicit bias, which Foley defined as “attitudes, beliefs or stereotypes that affect our understanding in an unconscious manner.” Often, these do not align with the beliefs we share out loud, but that does not mean they do not play a role in our behaviors.
“The biases can exist in so many hidden and implicit ways, and there are so many areas that we don’t even think about,” Shailen Mishra, a postdoc in writing pedagogy who participated in the workshop, noted. “What I really took away is that we all need to be more vigilant, to actively and consciously think about these things.”
The workplace, in particular, is filled with scenarios that could potentially trigger bias. In the discussion, the topic of gender came up quite frequently in relation to workplace bias, with Foley conceding that, until fairly recently, men dominated the public sphere, holding jobs, while women remained in the private sphere, maintaining the home.
This perception, according to Foley, has made a lasting impact that affects every part of a woman’s career, from initial hiring, to potential promotions and even to retirement.
Lauren Zahour, a residence hall coordinator and participant in the workshop, pointed to this section of the workshop as arguably the most informative, noting how it is rare to see the issue of bias discussed beyond the hiring process.
“It was nice to look at the overall cycle, the process of starting at a new workplace all the way up through retirement and how our biases can come into play in regards to everything we do,” Zahour said. “If I ever end up working in the business realm and am hiring, selecting or promoting people, I hope now I can reflect on the questions I’m asking and ensure I am being fair throughout the entire process.”