One of the National Institutes of Health’s responses to the Black Lives Matter movement is the launch of implicit bias training last August.
As a black queer woman with a biomedical doctorate. who professionally advocates for the concerns of other scientists, especially those from groups that have historically been marginalized in STEM, I decided it made sense for me to take the training as well.
Even though I had never had such training before, I had been discriminated against and wanted to know what the NIH thought the scientific community should know about bias and how that matched or differed from what I thought the community should know about prejudice.
While the training certainly raises awareness of various types of biases, in my opinion, it fails to address explicit biases in STEM.
About implicit bias
Implicit biases are biases and stereotypes that influence our decision-making without our realizing it. These biases lead us to judge, exclude and harm people we have stereotypes and biases for, which leads to inequalities in our personal and professional lives.
Over the years, researchers have debated the effectiveness of mandatory unconscious bias training and its impact on reversing individual biases. A general consensus is that it is not enough to require employees to undergo training. Real change comes from training and tools and strategies to help change individual and organizational behavior.
About the training
The two-hour interactive NIH training offers factual information regarding different types of bias, such as affinity bias, confirmation bias, and groupthink.
It includes fictional scenarios illustrating different biases highlighted in the training and tests your ability to reflect on your own biases through multiple-choice self-assessments.
Overall, I found the training informative and stimulating, as it challenged my own implicit biases. For example, it made me notice that I find bias in others while not seeing historically marginalized groups that I don’t know, such as minority religious groups, as underrepresented in STEM.
However, if the NIH is to counter biases specific to the biomedical scientific enterprise, it must confront the power dynamics that exist within the agency and in academia. The modules did not provide examples of these power imbalances, particularly regarding historically underserved trainees.
He also did not provide examples of the experiences of interviewers with diverse gender identities, religious beliefs, or disabilities. It did not address ageism or delve into known forms of discrimination that occur at NIH and its funded institutions, such as sexual harassment, lack of diversity in high-level positions, and grant funding inequities. .
Moreover, as important as it is to raise awareness of implicit bias, the truth is that the NIH must deal with explicit bias.
In 2020, the NIH launched the UNITE program to end structural racism within the agency and the biomedical research enterprise.
UNITE has five committees with the following specific objectives:
- you — Understand stakeholder experiences through listening and learning
- NOT — New research on health disparities, minority health and health equity
- I — Improve NIH culture and structure for equity, inclusion, and excellence
- J — Transparency, communication and accountability with our internal and external stakeholders
- E — Extramural research ecosystem: changing policy, culture and structure to promote workforce diversity
Recently, UNITE hosted listening sessions in which stakeholders from minority-serving institutions urged NIH to address more explicit biases in peer review, such as discrimination at the against disability, the institution of origin and the country of origin, affirming that awareness of prejudice is not enough. I am okay.
While tackling implicit bias is a step toward addressing racism and discrimination against historically marginalized groups, efforts must be made to address the explicit biases that drive intentional acts of discrimination.
In order to end structural racism and discrimination, the fundamental issues of racism, ableism and misogyny must be addressed. Explicit bias is both the creation and the result of racist and harmful policies adopted to maintain racial hierarchy and imbalanced power dynamics. Until explicit biases are dismantled, structural racism and discrimination will continue to persist.
Overall, I found that while the benefits of implicit bias training outweigh the harms in terms of numbers, there is plenty of room for improvement.
Here are the benefits. The lesson:
- Gives examples of how implicit bias affects the NIH.
- Challenges participants’ views on personal biases.
- Has subtitles and is accessible.
- Incorporates self-assessment for areas of growth.
- Displays examples of biases in hiring practices.
However, the route:
- Lacks examples of implicit bias in mentoring and offers only one example of bias in peer review.
- Does not explore implicit biases related to gender identity (beyond gender binary), sexual orientation, age, or disability.
Ultimately, the training lacks depth at a time when the community should really question the biases researchers and trainees face in academia and the biomedical science enterprise.
Click HERE to learn more about NIH Implicit Bias training.