How to overcome your unconscious biases

Femi Otitoju says you are indeed biased - but so is everyone else. And that doesn't have to be the end of the story. Otitoju trains people to discover, investigate, and overcome their unconscious biases.

When Femi Otitoju first took an implicit bias test, she was fairly confident what her results would be.

But as a black gay woman, she was shocked to discover she had an unconscious bias in favour of white or light-skinned people. Clearly, she thought, the test must be wrong,

So she sought out an expert on these sorts of tests. He asked her a few questions, drawing out details about her childhood. Otitoju told him that she had grown up in a small English town, surrounded by white families. 

"Aha! There you are!" he told her. It turns out that most of the positive images she had received while growing up were of white people.

"I think it's important to say that just because we got a test result one day, doesn't mean that it's fixed - that's how we're going to be for the rest of our lives."

Otitoju decided she wanted to change this bias within herself.

She set about learning more about the history of black people and leaders, how they had contributed to society, and she surrounded herself with positive images in her office and at home. Sure enough, when she took the test again, that bias was gone.   

"The tests just test how quickly you are able to do as your told. [N]o one is saying that the test result that you would get from an implicit association would be an absolute, accurate indicator of your behaviour every time. What it can tell you is that this is your default position." 

As the Founder and Training Director for Challenge Consultancy, Otitoju trains people to investigate their own unconscious bias. Among her clients are the BBC, Barclays Bank, The Scottish Parliament, UNICEF, Amnesty International and the CBC.

There is no shame in something being unfamiliar to you.- Femi Otitoju

She says everybody has unconscious biases. While it may be uncomfortable to acknowledge we have them, we shouldn't beat ourselves up.

"We can feel as though we are guilty of something, worry about being bad people, because we associate certain types of behaviour with certain types of people, and that simply isn't the case. We're all hardwired to make quick instinctive implicit associations."

But Otitoju stresses that knowing about our unconscious biases is just the first step.

"We need to have a commitment to try and do something about it, and of course, we need to understand how to do something about it." 

Want to uncover your own biases? Take the tests.

Click LISTEN to hear more about how implicit bias tests can be a tool for positive change.