Discussion surrounding implicit association tests (IATs) has become increasingly popular as employers have begun to examine company-wide diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. IATs are assessments used to measure associations between concepts; in the workplace, they help to unveil hidden biases regarding gender, race, age, and ability. With 42 percent of women experiencing gender biases at work, uncovering such biases is an important step in addressing the subtle discrimination and microaggressions that keep women and other marginalized groups from advancing in their organizations.
Before we dive in any further, let’s make one thing clear: The validity of IATs is contested by some researchers and practitioners. For example, in their 2013 meta-analysis of IATs, Oswald, Mitchell, and colleagues found that IATs were bad predictors of prejudice and discrimination. However, in other cases, IATs have exposed distinct relationships between hidden beliefs and behaviors. In 2011, Agerstrom and Rooth identified a clear connection between obesity IAT results of hiring managers and job interview decisions. Hiring managers who held negative ideas about individuals who were overweight were less likely to invite those candidates to interview. As you can see, science is murky and contradictory sometimes.
What’s most important is that these conversations are being had, so let’s look further at IATs and the misconceptions they’re intended to reveal. We asked Sharon Harington, a diversity and inclusion specialist with more than 15 years of experience delivering unconscious bias training, to weigh in on biases and the potential uses of IATs. With her expertise, these IATs just might change the way you think in the workplace, especially when it comes to unconscious bias.
What 4 Implicit Association Tests can reveal about your unconscious biases
Unlike explicit bias, which is a belief you know you have, unconscious biases reside in your subconscious mind, so you don’t usually know they are there. IATs can reveal those biases by showing what types of terms or ideas you associate with a concept. For example, you may think you believe that women and men are equally valuable in the workforce. However, an IAT can reveal that you view women as homemakers and men as breadwinners.
“In my trainings, we do an activity that’s based on unconscious bias research,” Harington says. “People are so surprised that they believe in things they don’t even know they believe in. Sometimes, they even try to change their answers to match what they think they should believe. And really, none of it means that you’re a bad person. In our society, it’s more common than people realize to pick up belief systems and attitudes unconsciously. The key is to manage them and do everything you can to treat people like individuals. Don’t judge all women based on something that a few have said or done. Judge women as individuals.”
Harington suggests using IAT test results as a guide in evaluating your beliefs, not as a definitive system that cannot be changed. “When I first started doing unconscious bias training, nobody really believed in it. The research was still kind of new and most people didn’t really trust it yet. But now, we see there’s value in implicit bias training. Because implicit bias is real. So, when you take a test or do a training activity, be open to what you find. And remember that knowledge is power; the more you know about your beliefs, the more you can do about them.”
Here are four to try out IATs to try right now. As Harington recommends, use them as a tool in understanding your own hidden beliefs and being proactive about adjusting those beliefs to be more inclusive and unbiased.
1. Race IAT - Project Implicit
Even if you don’t realize it, you might hold biases about people based on their race. The race IAT is designed to detect those biases. For example, some people have a misconception that Black women benefit from “diversity hiring,” which means that they get jobs or promotions simply because of their race. Yet, in 2019, the Center for Talent Innovation reported that just 8 percent of Black careerists hold professional jobs with a mere 3.2 percent in leadership roles. Similarly, Salud America reported that white job seekers got 36 percent more callbacks than Black job seekers and 24 percent more callbacks than Latino job seekers. This IAT could help demonstrate that Black and Latino professionals still face a myriad of challenges in the workplace and are not subject to more lenient hiring practices.
2. Gender-Career IAT - Project Implicit
One of the greatest challenges women face at work is being treated (and paid) equally as their male counterparts. The gender-career IAT is built around some of these challenges. This test draws out attitudes and beliefs you have toward women, men, and the workforce. Featuring keywords such as marriage, laundry, salary, employees, and manager, the gender-career IAT challenges misconceptions you might have about traditional gender roles and whether you unconsciously assign certain roles to women or men.
3. Ability IAT
Accessibility biases are more common than people think. In fact, a 2013 study revealed that 83 percent of study participants held unconscious biases toward individuals with a physical disability. The same participants favored images of individuals who had disabilities but remained active versus images that depicted people with disabilities watching television, talking on the phone, and engaging in less active pastimes. You can use the ability IAT to identify these similar attitudes you may hold toward differently abled people.
4. Age IAT
Age discrimination has long been a concern of job seekers in the workforce. But, it’s also a valid concern for after you secure the job. Although the Age Discrimination Employment Act (ADEA) was passed in 1967, some middle-aged or elderly employees are viewed as less valuable team members. In 2019, Sherman Law reported that being overlooked for challenging work assignments, or unfairly disciplined were all signs of ageism at work. Even if you believe you value older employees the same as other team members, the age IAT can help you determine whether you hold biases toward older employees at work.
About our source
Sharon Harington is a diversity and inclusion specialist and implicit bias trainer for a government agency. She has 15 years of experience in managing diversity, equity, and inclusion programs and holds a master’s degree in organizational behavior. She’s excited that current conversations about inclusion are finally catching up to what she has seen and experienced in more than 1,000 implicit bias trainings during her career.