I have taken the Harvard Implicit Bias tests a number of times and I’m still not entirely sure what the results are telling me. Having grown up in a society awash with gender stereotypes the ability to connect femaleness with family and maleness with career (this is what the gender test measures) isn’t surprising, the media bombard us with the connections endlessly so the ability to more quickly connect those on the test doesn’t come as a shock. Does that demonstrate a bias? At one level I am sure it does but at another level I really don’t know. It does demonstrates that I have noticed the guff the media feed us all and those neural connections are easily accessible to me. But will this necessarily influence my behaviour and lead to prejudice?
I guess what it does highlight is the fact that we are fighting against something much bigger than ourselves. These stereotypes and cultural norms surround us and set the benchmark and the expectations of society as a whole. Examples abound, how much female sport is on regular TV? How many famous women have a statue in Manchester (Answer, one, and they are just this week talking about adding a second).
So is it inevitable that just because I have been surrounded by a biased world I will be a biased person? I hope not, because if that is the case there is no hope for any of us brought up in Britain (or I guess any where else that I can think of).
In my concious world I continually battle against bias, it is something I talk about openly and often, particularly at home. My wife is a fiercely independent woman, I would never presume to set expectations about what she should or shouldn’t aspire to or achieve, I am hugely proud of her achievements and will applaud (and support) her aspirations whatever they are. My daughter is a feisty teenager and we have brilliant debates about how much she hates Bond films for their misogyny and portrayal of pathetic subservient female characters (btw how did they get to be spies if they are so pathetic?).
So I guess my reflection from taking these tests it that it will be important to keep a dialogue going in the conscious space that challenges the pervasive and unhelpful stereotypes and social norms that surround us and not allow them to set standards and expectations by default!
I am a faculty member of the NHS Leadership Academy and this post was written as part of my reflections of a Diversity and Inclusion programme that I am undertaking with them.