I never really thought about Implicit Bias being the flip side of Diversity or of Diversity being the antidote to Implicit Bias until I read two articles recently. One was in the December 2015 issue of the American Bar Journal (ABA) entitled “Battling Bias” by Stephanie Francis Ward discussing a housing decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court in June  2015 ( Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v Inclusive Communities Project, – U. S. -,135 S. Ct. 46, 189 L. Ed. 2d 896 (2014) ) in which it was alleged that “… the department disproportionately gave tax credits to developers of low-income housing in minority inner-city Dallas neighborhoods, while denying the credits in suburbs with large white populations.  (Id. at 15.)  This practice, according to Justice Kennedy, created disparate impact liability which is a way to uncover unconscious prejudices, animus or discriminatory intent. Or, in short, to uncover implicit bias. ( ““Implicit bias” is a term of art referring to relatively unconscious and relatively automatic features of prejudiced judgment and social behavior.” http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/implicit-bias/ )

The article then discusses how judges have lately gotten on the band wagon to recognize implicit bias within themselves through training and to work to prevent it in the matters they handle. (Id. at 15-16.)

Then, the New York Times published an article on December 9, 2015 regarding the affirmative action case, Fisher v University of Texas (Case no14-981) that was being argued in the U. S. Supreme Court that day. Ms. Fisher sued the University of Texas at Austin when the latter rejected her application because of her race.  According to the article (“Diversity Makes You Brighter” by Sheen S. Levine and David Stark), Ms. Fisher contends that “… diversity may be achieved in other ways, without considering race.” (Id.)

The authors discuss their research which not only validates this point but shows that,

“….

[d]iversity improves the way people think. By disrupting conformity, racial and ethnic diversity prompts people to scrutinize facts, think more deeply and develop their own opinions. Our findings show that such diversity benefits everyone, minorities and majority alike.”

To prove this point, the researchers conducted several experiments in which they had participants compete in groups to determine accurate answers to problems. Some of the groups were homogeneous while others were diverse in that they included at least one participant of a different ethnicity or race.

The researchers found that in the diverse groups, the answers of the group were 58 percent more accurate. While in the homogeneous group,

“… [t]he opposite happened. When surrounded by others of the same ethnicity or race, participants were more likely to copy others, in the wrong direction. Mistakes spread as participants seemingly put undue trust in others’ answers, mindlessly initiating them. In the diverse groups, across ethnicities and locales, participants were more likely to distinguish between wrong and accurate answers. Diversity brought cognitive friction that enhanced deliberation.“ (Id.)

Notably, this cognitive friction occurred just by the mere presence of the minority participant. (Id.)  The differences really emerged when the minority participants began to interact with the majority participants. Their presence prompted critical thinking causing errors to be discovered more easily.  In contrast, when everyone in the group is “like us”, the researchers found that the group was easily influenced and thus more likely to fall for the wrong error, without the critical thinking present to catch the error. (Id.)

So… you are in a dispute with someone. And chances are, that person is not “like us” because if she was, you probably would not be a dispute with her in the first place. Chances are there is a little bit (if not a lot!) of implicit bias going on in your head without you realizing it. There is some unconscious prejudices or judgments flowing through your thought processes.

If diversity is, indeed, the flip side to implicit bias, the best way to deal with the implicit bias is to sit down with that person (or a third party colleague)   and discuss the issues.  The diverse viewpoints will enable you to think critically through the issues, and resolve them without much less likelihood of error.

… Just something to think about!

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