1.2 Being aware of our own unconscious bias
It is very important when working with diverse mentee groups to be aware of our unconscious bias. It is equally important that the young people we are working with are aware of their unconscious bias. So, what is unconscious bias and why is it important?
Bias is a preconception that is in favour of, or against, one thing over another, and usually in a way that is considered unfair. Biases can have positive or negative consequences, can be held by an individual or by a group of people, and can be directed towards any social group. A person’s ethnicity, race, age, gender, religion, physical abilities, weight, height, or sexual orientation are just some of the characteristics that are subject to bias.
There are two types of biases, one we are aware of – conscious bias (or explicit bias), and our unconscious bias (implicit bias). According to Renee Navarro, Vice Chancellor of Diversity and Outreach (2020), our unconscious bias “refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner”. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about certain groups of people, and we form these social stereotypes outside our own conscious awareness.
Our unconscious bias is often opposite to our conscious values, beliefs and attitudes. Therefore, it is essential that mentors be aware of their unconscious bias when working with vulnerable young people. It is also necessary to make our mentees aware of their unconscious biases so that they can be more conscious of their actions, behaviour and acceptance towards others.
Reflective questions for the reader:
- Can you think of a time when you felt unfairly judged?
- Do you think that you ever judged another person unfairly?
- Thinking back, how might you have handled the situation differently?