4 ways to reduce the impact of implicit bias in higher ed admissions

When we think about bias, it’s often in the context of what we see in the media, where specific discriminatory actions are guided by a person’s explicit beliefs and values. But what gets left out of the discussion more times than not is implicit bias, something we all have but may not notice because it’s unconscious. It can be negative or positive and is influenced by our lived experiences, media, and culture to help us simplify a very complicated world. 

Regardless of a person’s intentions, implicit bias does have a real-world effect on behavior and decision-making processes. A study in 2016 revealed that preschool teachers directed much more of their attention to black students when ‘challenging’ behavior was expected. Multiple studies over the years have also found that implicit bias creeps up when employers review resumes, leaving women and minority candidates at a disadvantage despite their experience and qualifications. A systematic review published by BMC Medical Ethics found a strong relationship between implicit bias in healthcare professionals and lower quality of care for patients. These are just a few examples of why it’s imperative that we understand and address implicit bias, especially in higher ed admissions.

Here’s how to reduce the impact of implicit bias

1. Acknowledge it

It’s a hard pill to swallow, but the first step to reducing implicit bias is to accept that we all have it. That doesn’t make us bad people, it’s just that we may rely too much on that ‘gut feeling’ when we’re making decisions.

2. Take time to make informed decisions

We’re more likely to go with our gut when we want to make quick decisions, whether it’s because we’re inundated with too much information to process, handling multiple tasks at the same time or facing looming deadlines. Be aware when this starts to happen and really focus your attention on one thing at a time, and don’t rush. Consider all the information you have at your disposal to make an informed decision.

3. Focus on the individual

This is probably the most challenging step since you won’t know these applicants personally and have to make decisions solely based on the information presented. If you’ve switched to video interviews as part of your adapted admissions process during COVID-19 or you’re using Snapshot, make sure you focus on what each person is telling you about their unique journey. Be conscious of any potential biases that may creep up and discuss these with your colleagues to ensure a thorough and fair process for your pool of applicants. For example, if you’re admitting applicants to a medical program, don’t assume that a lack of clinical shadowing indicates a lack of interest when it could potentially be a lack of opportunity. 

4. Understand and address it on a regular basis

Remember, we all have implicit biases and we’re all responsible for understanding and addressing them. A good place to start is for your team to complete Harvard’s Implicit Association Test. The test will shed light on some of your automatic preferences to help inform discussions on how to collectively shape admissions selection to ensure a fairer process. Also consider speaking to people outside of your usual circles, including those who are – or have been – impacted by implicit bias. This will provide you with different perspectives on the impact of implicit biases as well as how to overcome them. 

We all need to do our part to ensure fairness and equity. To learn more about what Altus Assessments is doing to further minimize bias in the Casper test, read our latest research report.

Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay