Workshop teaches importance of overcoming personal, institutional biases
Recognizing and overcoming unconscious biases about strangers can be an important goal for anyone, but even more so if he or she is charged with hiring decisions, teaching a classroom of students or making traffic stops.
About 30 people from a variety of fields learned about addressing such biases within themselves and their organizations during a workshop Wednesday in Hoffman Estates that was coordinated by the Arlington Heights-based Illinois Commission on Diversity and Human Relations.
The morning seminar was facilitated by professor Destiny Peery, who holds a law degree and a doctorate in social psychology from Northwestern University. She writes, teaches and speaks on the psychology of bias, stereotyping, discrimination and inclusion in law.
Given the wide breadth of her audience's professional backgrounds Wednesday, Peery provided more generalized examples of unconscious biases and their consequences.
One early exercise asked attendees to write down their first impressions of eight people in photos, including how much they thought they could deduce about them. Race, gender, age, facial expressions and body language determined a lot of quick takes.
As one member of the audience said, it's what most do every day.
Peery said it's exactly what the common amusement of people-watching derives from, but she also asked when such quick and confident conclusions cross the line into something to be concerned about.
"This whole endeavor is not about being perfect, but about being better," Peery said. "If perfect is our goal, we're all going to fail."
Police officers are among the members of society whose jobs require them to make the quickest decisions -- and for whom the consequences can be the most significant.
Schaumburg Police Chief Bill Wolf, who attended the workshop, personally trains others on impartial policing. He said one of the best ways to address quick decisions is to develop methods to avoid them.
New techniques emphasize giving oneself more time and space to gather information and make better decisions, he added.
"More and more law enforcement agencies are engaging in the training," Wolf said.
The Rev. Clyde Brooks, chairman of the commission that organized the workshop, said it's also compiling a "Who's Who" of local police departments deemed friendlier to people of color. Among the leaders are Schaumburg, Hoffman Estates, Woodridge, Burr Ridge and Glenview.
What differentiates them is their leadership, but inclusive hiring practices are another important ingredient, Brooks said.
Recognizing that workshop attendees were people more open to change and self-improvement, Brooks told them that more work lay ahead for them.
"It's nice that you're here, but what we need you to do once you leave here is talk about this to your organization," he said. "This subject is crucial."
Amania Drane of Darien, who attended through her membership in the Together is Better Alliance, said the aspect that most stood out for her is how much unconscious biases affect people's behavior and attitudes, and that they must be regularly confronted to be overcome.
Peery said that was exactly right.
"It is work for me, too," she said. "In some ways, the work is always there. But the work does get easier."