Some of you may know that PRADCO has done research into the subject of implicit bias and has even hosted a webinar on the topic. In our municipal assessments, we have always examined the potential bias of candidates. Given our work in this area, it made sense to attend a session on the topic at the conference. The Kirwin Institute at the Ohio State University states that implicit bias “refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. These biases, which encompass both favorable and unfavorable assessments, are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control”. I would like to offer a different twist on implicit bias that may not have occurred to you as you hired or promoted employees in your community.
Typically, implicit bias has been looked at in relation to safety force employees and their interactions with the general public. For example, police departments want officers to not treat citizens differently based on perceived socioeconomic status or educational level. How many of you have thought about how implicit bias impacted your selection process for municipal employees? That is, do members of your leadership team bring bias to their selection decisions? The typical answer given is a resounding “no”. However, the correct answer is a definitive “yes”. Why? We all bring implicit bias to our decisions – to deny it is illogical. However, that bias does not necessarily have to lead to discriminatory behavior. This is one reason that it is a best practice to have an objective third- party assessment as part of your selection process. We all bring implicit bias to our daily lives and this includes interviewing, background checks, and job application reviews. However, we should not allow the age, race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation of a job candidate to have a negative impact on our selection procedures or the future of the candidate. This same principle holds true when choosing current employees for professional development activities.
In the session, we participated in a “first thoughts” exercise. We were asked to say the first thing that came to our mind when we were shown the words: Muslim, Disabled, Millennial, Black, White, Obese. It was interesting to hear the thoughts of the participants. You may want to ask people involved in your community’s selection process how they would answer. The main takeaways from this exercise were that 1) the brain makes mental shortcuts all the time, and, 2) implicit bias does not directly cause biased decision making. However, implicit bias INFLUENCES our judgment. This is one reason to ask whether people who play a role in your selection and professional development processes have received in-depth training on how implicit bias impacts employment decisions and how its impact can be minimized.
In closing, it is important to remember that diversity is intentional. This not only applies to diversity in our communities, but diversity in our municipal workforce, too. Diversity goals will only be reached if we are intentional about how we design and implement our selection procedures. We can’t eliminate bias, but we owe it to ourselves and our communities to reduce the influence implicit bias has on our professional judgment.