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Updated: October 28, 2019 Outside the Box

Your implicit biases will lead to stereotyping

A picture of Bonnie J. Walker Image | Courtesy of Bonnie J. Walker Bonnie J. Walker
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First impressions are a real thing, and human beings are programmed to make quick, calculated judgments, innate to our survivor instincts. So, what happens when a received first impression is beyond the control of the person making the impression? Meaning, what happens when impressions and quick judgments are riddled with implicit bias?

Implicit biases are any subconscious set of associations an individual has, and are often about a social group, negative or positive. These biases are products of learned associations and social conditioning, and can result in stereotyping. They can begin at a young age, and most people are unaware they hold them.

I asked three individuals, in corporate management, corporate technology, and higher education from different demographic backgrounds, to share personal examples of how the implicit biases were imposed on them in the workplace.

A black, 40-something, male director from a Fortune 500 company shared he had applied for internal upper-management level positions within his company several times throughout the years, but never got a call to interview. Then, he was referred by a white, female colleague, whom he had been working closely with over the past year, for an internal upper management position, one he was overqualified for. Without submitting his resume, he received a call from the hiring manager, and toting his English accent during the call, he was well-received by this older, white man. He was invited to an in-person interview.

He walked through the door of the hiring manager’s conference room, with his big and tall, black, muscular body, in a brand new, sharp suit, looking at a sea of smiling, white faces. Within seconds the faces shifted from smiling to expressions of shock and even disappointment, even before he could say hello. He knew instantly the hiring manager and other white suits around the table had expected a different physical body to walk through the door. He knew then, even before the interview began, he was too black for the position. He had been informed over the phone by the hiring manager the interview was simply a formality, and the job was his. He was not hired for the position.

The executive from corporate technology, a biracial (white-looking), 40-something women told me in the past month, several male colleagues (white, black and biracial men), whom were trying to be helpful, told her she would do better in industry if she were less direct with colleagues and clients in meetings; because given there are so few women in the industry, she shouldn’t do anything to garner any further attention, rather be glad just to be at the table.

The executive in higher education, a white, 30-something female, said, “I know that these types of things have occurred, but I think I do whatever it takes to block it out and bury it.”

For those of us who have had negative implicit biases imposed on us, we navigate in a similar way: We bury them and keep moving. What’s the alternative? If I gave attention to, and took the time to redirect every microaggression imposed on me, rooted in implicit bias, I would spend a lot of time doing this, instead of getting my work done! There are too many, blatant and subtle. Implicit biases often show up through microaggressions, stereotyping, racism, and sexism.

We all have implicit biases. Holding an implicit bias towards a particular social group can determine how you treat an individual from that group. Although explicit forms of workplace discrimination are banned, implicit bias plays a significant role in the professional world. Business leaders and hiring managers should all receive training on implicit bias. Being informed of implicit biases, how they show up, and how they influence decision-making, as well as becoming critically aware of our own implicit biases and actively resisting them, allows us to make our workplaces more inclusive, and avoid perpetuating harmful acts of prejudice and oppression, and other forms of discrimination against others.

Bonnie J. Walker is the interim director of equity and inclusion at Worcester Academy, plying this arena in education in Mass. for 15 years. Contact her at

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October 28, 2019
Very well written. When will we ever see beyond the color of a person? That change in attitude probably won’t happen in our lifetime, but educating people and pointing out implicit biases is the right way to approach the problem.
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