Consciously Unconscious: Bateman Group Reflects on Implicit Bias

At Bateman Group, we’re committed to building and maintaining a diverse company with an inclusive culture. We have a committee focused on this effort and recognize the importance of creating space for conversations related to diversity, inclusion, equity, and bias. 

With the help of our management team, some external resources, and our non-profit client Code2040, we’ve recently been talking about bias in daily life and at work. Tyler, our Brooklyn office GM and partner, shared a series of implicit bias tests that explore unconscious associations with race, gender, sexual orientation, age, mental health, and other categories. The tests were developed by Harvard University in partnership with Project Implicit, a non-profit organization that seeks to educate the public about unconscious perception and gathers data to inform social research.

In the spirit of reflection, I asked (okay, begged and bribed) several of my colleagues at Bateman Group to share their experiences taking these tests — and particularly, what they learned about themselves through the process. Did they uncover hidden biases, or did the tests affirm their own self-perception? Did they find any new ways of thinking about perception, judgment, and stereotypes?

Here’s some of the feedback I collected:

“I took the implicit bias test for bias towards or against Arab Muslims. I assumed I had no bias towards, given I was raised Muslim and have been around Muslims, including Arab Muslims, for most of my life. I was fascinated by how my brain and body were responding more quickly than I was able to even process what was happening. Even though I knew I didn’t want to associate negative words with Muslim names, I noticed myself doing so quite a few times.

Giving thought to anything implicit and subconscious inherently makes you more self-aware, but I still wasn’t able to control it. This was a good lesson on the power of the mind and something to think about as I make quick decisions (or comments) on a daily basis.”

“I have taken these tests/quizzes before and personally think that they tell me more of what I already know. The one I took today was on something that I know strongly about myself, so I didn’t find it very enlightening or useful. That said, I’ve taken ones before that surprised me a great deal — I think it depends on which you take and how strongly you think you know yourself.”

“Admittedly, as I opened my first test I was nervous. Generally, I think I know myself pretty well…but do I? What will I learn about how I see the world? The test was the Implicit Association Test (IAT). It’s studying our inclination to believe research based on the researcher’s social group…if this person says it’s true I choose to believe them based on what their gender is or what the color of their skin is, not necessarily because of what they know or the credentials they have for conducting the research. I pause for a minute before starting, do I automatically just take a person for their word based on their gender or race? And if I do, what does that mean for my own contributions to the world? I start the test to see where I land.

I finish the test and get the results. Turns out the test came out as I thought it might, but along the way, I came to realize it didn’t really matter. The real result of taking the test was for me was a new framework for understanding the broader reality of what the test represented. It is important to question what we think we know and also be willing to see ourselves for who we really are as individuals and a collective. This openness is essential for being an active part of productive change.

Since taking the test, I have had productive conversations around the language we use in describing each other and why often people assign unnecessary attributes to identify people based on their social group. “My X neighbor,…” Aren’t they just your neighbor…does it matter the color of their skin, or who they love when describing them? It does not, and I’m personally trying to make sure I’m not playing into established patterns for describing people…because I know for myself what I am doesn’t dictate who I am or my contribution to the world, nor should it for anyone else.”

“I took the implicit bias test for self-esteem, and I wasn’t sure what to expect from the questions and the outcome. It was tough to answer the questions as honestly and as quickly as I could without subconsciously trying to skew the results. Ultimately, the results showed that my implicit data suggests I slightly identify myself more with being a good person than bad. This didn’t necessarily surprise me, but I did catch myself hesitating before instinctively responding to a question – which was interesting to me.”

Inclusion starts with self-awareness. While being aware of our biases is just a small step toward creating a more diverse and inclusive culture, it’s an important one. The better we can understand the filter through which we see the world, the more we can consciously adjust our reactions and conversations with our colleagues. I’m proud to be part of a company that values building an empathetic culture just as much as doing great work.