One thing we all have in common is implicit bias. Children and adults alike hold thoughts and beliefs that often go unexamined, including preferences for or aversions to individuals or groups of people. These biases are at work whether or not we are aware of them.
Implicit biases can influence our behavior toward others and they can also impact how we perceive ourselves. We might doubt our own abilities or those of others because of harmful stereotypes we’ve internalized — even without knowing it.
Our biases can affect our choices in any setting. In a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) classroom, for instance, teachers and students might have different biases or expectations based on factors like gender, race, ability or socioeconomic class, which can contribute to unequal and harmful experiences.
The key to addressing implicit biases is to examine our own. For parents and educators, using tools like these tests from Harvard University is a great place to start. Meant to uncover hidden biases, resources like these can help us learn to recognize our own automatic responses to people and situations, and with this knowledge, we can begin to combat these biases and consciously make fair decisions, demonstrate mindful behaviors and ensure equitable environments.
Educators and parents who confront their own biases are better equipped to guide children to recognize and reject stereotypes that might be affecting how they see themselves and others.
There are many biases and stereotypes both adults and children can carry into classrooms. With an understanding of implicit bias, however, educators can create a healthy and empowering environment for all students.
One particularly powerful way to address biases in STEM classrooms is to introduce students to diverse STEM role models. By highlighting great role models with diverse identities, backgrounds and experiences, children will not only benefit from seeing STEM leaders who look, sound or learn like them, but they will also benefit from seeing role models who are different from them.
When, for example, a young girl identifies with a woman in STEM, she can see herself represented and will be better able to reject biases tied to gender. But girls aren’t the only ones who should meet women role models. Children of all genders need to see that skills, interests and talents are not dictated by gender, and that STEM and innovation are for everyone.
Looking for STEM role models children find relatable? Meet some of the world’s greatest innovators when you search through our growing list of National Inventors Hall of Fame® Inductees at invent.org/inductees/search.
For more ideas and support in encouraging healthy perspectives, promoting greater inclusivity in learning environments, and guiding our next generation of creators, innovators and leaders, please visit our blog at invent.org/blog.