“Your data suggest a strong automatic association for Male with Career and Female with Family.”

That was my result after taking the Implicit Association Test (IAT) for Gender and Career.

The IAT measures the strength of associations between concepts (e.g., Female/Male and Career/Family). The main idea is that making a response is easier when closely related items share the same response key. One has an implicit association between Male and ‘Career’ relative to Female and ‘Career’ if they are faster to categorize words when Male and ‘Career’ share a response key relative to when Female and ‘Career’ share a response key.

Implicit preferences can predict behavior. Implicit preferences are related to discrimination in hiring and promotion, medical treatment, and decisions related to criminal justice.

There is not yet enough research to say for sure that implicit biases can be reduced, let alone eliminated. Packaged “diversity trainings” generally do not use evidence-based methods of reducing implicit biases. Therefore, people are encouraged to instead focus on strategies that deny implicit biases the chance to operate, such as blind auditions and well-designed “structured” decision processes.

There are currently 14 IATs that a person can take; earlier today I took the Sexuality test at Villanova as part of “Check Your Blind Spots” campus tour event as part of the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion. This event will allow the Villanova community to learn more about the nuances of unconscious bias, CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion and which companies are committed to affecting change toward a more inclusive society.

Other IATs include age, weight, race, and religion, to name a few..

The IAT was created by Project Implicit, a non-profit organization and international collaboration between researchers who are interested in implicit social cognition – thoughts and feelings outside of conscious awareness and control. The goal of the organization is to educate the public about hidden biases and to provide a “virtual laboratory” for collecting data on the Internet.

 When I saw the results regarding my strong gender bias associating men with career and women with family I was both surprised and concerned. It’s hard to tell exactly what sort of responses I gave would lead to such a result. There were some questions in the IAT asking about my upbringing. I came from a pretty traditional family where my dad worked full-time and my mom worked part-time. There’s not much I can do about that, but perhaps that created some deep biases that I am not aware of. Perhaps that’s why they are often referred to as hidden biases.

I was surprised by the results because as a business school teacher I am surrounded by young women who want to have a successful career. I don’t think (well at least I hope) I’ve shown any bias against women pursuing a career in the world of business, but maybe I need to pay closer attention to my words and actions.

The concern comes into play when the researchers note that there is “not yet enough research to say for sure that implicit biases can be reduced, let alone eliminated.”

It should be noted that the developers of the IAT make no claim for the validity of the suggested interpretations. The site warns people that if you are unprepared to encounter interpretations that you might find objectionable, then you should probably skip the test.

I find it hard to imagine that once you have an implicit bias that you can’t work to outgrow it.

But if such a bias can’t be eliminated, hopefully a person can at least become aware of what his or her biases are, and then develop a personal plan of action to lessen the likelihood that such a bias would affect their decision making.

If you are interested in taking any or all of the tests (it takes less than 10 minutes per test), here is the link.

 You can read more about Project Implicit here.

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Jim Borden

Accounting Prof. at Villanova; happily married for 30+ years; father of 3 outstanding young men; vegan; interests: fitness, creativity, education, blogging, social media.

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