Reflections on implicit bias, its impact & implications for LiveWell’s work

“Implicit bias is a problem for everyone,” proclaimed Hillary Clinton in the first 2016 presidential debate, a moment that many social justice activists say brought the concept of implicit bias to the mainstream media and public for the first time. “I think, unfortunately, too many of us in our great country jump to conclusions about each other,” Clinton added. Her statement was applauded by the left and condemned by right—but if you strip away the politics, it’s hard to deny the inherent truth in her words.

Implicit biases are thought processes or mental associations that affect our attitudes, actions, and decisions without our conscious knowledge. Although few people are aware of what implicit bias is and how it plays out in their lives, these subconscious biases exist and may directly contradict our stated values and beliefs. The reality is each and every one of us have been conditioned from birth to think and act in certain ways as a result of our environmental, social, and cultural experiences. And whether we realize it or not, these biases often influence our behaviors in ways that negatively affect those around us.

“Most people don’t intentionally set out to offend, hurt, oppress, or discriminate,” says Olga González, LiveWell’s director of equity and inclusion. “But because they’re not aware of their implicit bias, their behaviors may be seen or experienced by others in a negative way. This is why uncovering, understanding, and learning to correct implicit bias is so important when engaging with individuals and communities whose life experiences may be very different from our own.”

With that in mind, as part of our ongoing commitment to integrating an equity lens into all that we do, the entire LiveWell staff recently participated in an all-day implicit bias training workshop. It was the first in a series of learnings planned to help us better understand our individual biases as well as how structural and interpersonal racism, poverty, and other social determinants of health create barriers to healthy living for communities in Colorado.

It was a powerful and eye-opening day for our team. In addition to learning how to identify and address our personal biases, the training also led to reflections on how a deeper understanding of the impact and prevalence of implicit bias can inform LiveWell’s work and help us become a more powerful ally to the communities we serve. “Good intentions are simply not enough,” says González. “We have to step it up and think about whose voices we should be hearing—and how we can intentionally reach out to communities in a way that genuinely and humbly says ‘we are not here to speak for you, but to work with you, elevate your voices, and advocate for what you want and need.”

Perhaps the most important takeaway, overall, was not so much a specific learning or “aha” moment, but more of a general acceptance that we are all in this together, and we have so much to learn from one another. As one team member put it, “We all started from a place of not knowing and this is a lifelong journey.”

As we continue on in our health equity journey, we know it won’t always be easy, and there will be tough conversations and experiences ahead that may push us outside our comfort zones. But we also know that if we approach this work with open minds and hearts, humility, grace, and perseverance, the potential for impact is limitless.