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It Depends on the Lens: Educating Ourselves about Unconscious Bias

In November, the Office of the Vice Chancellor Council on Diversity and Inclusion was proud to welcome and co-sponsor “It Depends on the Lens,” an employee training on unconscious bias. Over 125 people participated in the event, which was hosted by Cornell Interactive Theatrical Ensemble (CITE). The presentation incorporated various strategies to demonstrate that we all have implicit bias, and we all have the responsibility not only to heighten our awareness of it, but also to reduce these biases. Vivian Relta, director and senior facilitator of CITE, underscored how both perspectives and perception change the way we view bias and how we respond to it.

Participants of the training watched a short film and case scenario with CITE actors demonstrating implicit bias in action during a hiring committee meeting. Throughout the scenario, some of the characters show individual bias toward groups based on ability, age, gender, race, and veteran status. The scenario also showed the frustrations of being unheard or met with hostility when advocating for others or yourself. Two of the actors from the short film continued their roles live in front of the participating audience, who posed questions and made recommendations to them. The training continued with small-group discussions. Relta of CITE emphasized the importance of assessing our own expectations in these controversial moments, and remembering that even well-intentioned people have bias.

The training closed with an overview of scholarship revealing the impacts of bias. Research shows that bias can often disadvantage women and people of color. Studies also show that unconscious bias in search committees results in less callbacks for interviews, hireability, access, and differential evaluation. Findings showed disparity in hireability based on names that are commonly associated with people of color and gender, in addition to frequent, unsolicited comments about women.

A survey of participants revealed:

  • 79% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “This session provided me with new knowledge.”
  • 93% of respondents found that the program was “effective” or “highly effective.”
  • Respondents also indicated that they would apply the knowledge in certain ways:
    • generally being more aware of issues of bias—including own biases;
    • changing their own/their department’s hiring practices; and
    • sharing information with their office/team.

One respondent said the training “could be helpful for anyone who serves on hiring committees to see.” More resources on bias include Harvard Business Review’s article “7 Practical Ways to Reduce Bias in Your Hiring Process,” Stanford’s See Bias / Block Bias Tool, and

Tyrene Jones, GECD