June 20, 2016


Overcoming Implicit Bias

 06/20/2016 12:11 am ET
John Pepper is the retired Chairman & CEO of The Procter & Gamble Company. He serves as the Honorary Co-Chair of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and, until 2012, served as the Chairman of the Board of The Walt Disney Company.
Robert: John, you’re someone for whom I have a lot of respect, so I was anxious to get your opinions for this short blog series on race and race perception. There is a great deal of turmoil in the news these days. As a longtime leader in Corporate America, I imagine you’ve done your share of crisis management. I have a couple “What would you do” type questions, but I want to ask them in the context of Implicit Bias. Implicit bias refers to: the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. Implicit bias is also the theme of a new exhibit you’re now opening at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Implicit Bias Exhibit
Why is it important for the Freedom Center to focus on implicit bias at this point in time?
John: Understanding the reality that we all have implicit biases, and always will, and taking actions to address these implicit biases, lies at the very heart of the Freedom Center’s purpose. That purpose embraces the importance of each of us recognizing one another’s individual dignity and the value of our working together and not being separated by stereotypical views of one another.

For me, the history of the Underground Railroad brings to life the willingness of people, different in race and class, and not knowing one another, to risk their lives, to come together to help one another achieve freedom.

Today, in this country, we continue to see the plague of implicit bias in our commercial, social and political worlds. We see ethnicities being stereotyped. We draw impressions of others based on their gender, body size, skin color, sexual orientation and dialect.

“Implicit Bias” allows us to understand these biases that we hold. They don’t reveal us as “bad people.” They reveal us as human. We need to look through them to understand the “other” person as worthy of our respect. I always counsel myself: “try to see the other person in myself and myself in the other person.”
Robert: Most of us reject bias on a conscious level. But how can media reports and the divisive words of prominent entertainment or political figures affect our views subconsciously?
John: They can give us a warped, stereotypical view of other people and the roles they play. Say, every time we see a doctor, we see a man; maybe we have trouble envisaging women playing that role. What if we see a scene of violence in a depressed neighborhood and someone makes the comment, “there they go again, those poor African-Americans.” You hear this kind of thing day in and day out. And it can affect your view. Generalized perceptions grow out of repeated individual reports. We fail to examine each situation and look at each person individually.
Robert: What can we do either personally or as a nation to fight negative bias, stereotyping, bigotry or, what is termed as, racism?
John: First and foremost, we can become aware of our own implicit biases. Take the “implicit association test.” You will find it free on the web. Just click here. If you are like the majority of people, you will find you are biased. That doesn’t make you a bad person, but, if you are like me, it will sensitize you to the need to look beyond what might be a generalized impression of other people to understand the individual, as an individual, to look at this man or woman as a person who, just like you, is pursuing the opportunities and challenges of life, with a background you may not understand, giving them the benefit of the doubt.

By far the best way to come to understand people who are different than we are is to come to know them personally, especially by working toward a common goal. There are so many activities in my life—in business and in the community—in which we have been able to achieve success only because of the diversity of the people around the table, men and women with experiences, perspectives and insights far different than mine. It is in working toward common goals that I have come to develop respect for people who are different than I am and be able to look past (as least better than I otherwise would) the generalized stereotypical perceptions that I might attach to race, ethnicity, gender, and thinking style.
Robert: It sounds like taking the time to understand other people might go a long way toward solving many of our “misunderstandings” in the world and in the U.S. today.
John, I know you’re a history buff. Did implicit bias contribute to the institution of slavery in America? How so?
John: When it comes to slavery, of course, we had explicit bias, not just implicit. The belief that African-Americans, men and women with dark or brown skin, were inferior, biologically, ran deep. There were even readings from the Bible which were cited as evidence to justify the subservient role of Black people.

Implicit bias has sadly carried on long past the formal abolition of slavery. It exists today. It is that which we must overcome.
Robert: You and your colleagues at the Freedom Center are certainly contributing to overcoming bias -  implicit or otherwise. I’m excited about my next trip to Cincinnati so I can visit your new exhibit. Thank you!
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