Revised Bias Exercise

Roberta Samec, Ontario, Canada and Lori Bryan, California, USA

The Leader Accreditation Department (LAD) offers Leader Applicants the opportunity to do three optional exercises: Listening Exercise, Bias Exercise, Mixing Causes Exercise. None of these are required exercises, however they can be a valuable addition to application work. A supporting Leader or LAD representative may recommend an exercise to an Applicant. However, it is the Applicant’s choice whether to do it or not.

After the LAD Council meeting at the International Area Network (IAN) Conference in Panama City, Panama in September 2019, a project group began the process of revising the Bias Exercise.

The story behind this revision started when Roberta Samec, Administrator for Leader Accreditation (ALA) for LLL Canada (LLLC), chose to speak about the Bias Exercise at the 2019 LAD Council meeting. In researching this exercise, Roberta found that many members of the LLLC LAD felt very passionately about the value of the Bias Exercise, and about the changes that could improve it. In her research for the exercise with Leaders beyond the LAD, Roberta was pleasantly surprised to discover that they not only felt very strongly about the importance of examining biases in preparation for leadership, but also felt it should be an exercise repeated after we become Leaders.

The exploration of biases is a lifelong pursuit and can easily be done outside of the Leader accreditation period. One possible way it could be used is as a Leader Day exercise with a focus on the three goals of the exercise:

  • To identify our own biases, conscious and unconscious, and understand how these can affect communication with mothers, parents, Leaders, and healthcare professionals.
  • To learn the difference between a conscious and an unconscious bias.
  • To raise awareness and learn how minimizing the effects of one’s biases can lead to productive and satisfying communication

Leaders could have three breakout groups to discuss each point in depth. Alternatively, there could be a guest speaker on the broader topic of bias and the exercise could be used as an activity after the presentation.

At the end of this article is the revised Bias Exercise, renamed Bias Exercise B: Conscious and Unconscious Biases. There are also Spanish ( Ejercicios B sober Prejuicios ) and French ( Exercice B sur les préjugés ) versions of this exercise available on the LLLI website. The LAD will continue to make the previous exercise available to Applicants. It’s official title is now Bias Exercise A: Respecting Differences. LAD Council is hopeful that all Leaders will find both exercises helpful for their Leader work, Leader Days, and beyond.

Although LLL recognizes the importance of identifying one’s biases and making sure they don’t interfere with Leader work, completing one of the Bias Exercises is not a requirement for accreditation. “Working with personal biases” is a topic on the Checklist of Topics to Discuss in Preparation for LLL Leadership under the “Helping One to One: Communication/helping skills” section. Some Applicants and supporting Leaders may decide it would also be helpful to do one of the optional Bias Exercises to enhance leadership preparation.

All required and optional application exercises can be found on the Leader Applicant page Application Exercises or accessed from the LAD representative working on the application.

Roberta Samec was the Administrator for Leader Accreditation for La Leche League Canada until recently. She lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, with her husband Adam and her two daughters, Isabella (11) and Roxanna (8). Professionally, she is co-owner of a national sales agency for both Canadian and International publishers.

Lori Bryan is the Administrator for Leader Accreditation for LLL USA LAD living in Lodi, California, USA. She has four adult children and four grandchildren. Professionally she works as a physical therapist until retirement later this year.

Bias Exercise B:

Conscious and Unconscious Biases

This is an exercise for both Applicants and Leaders. It is helpful to review it regularly after accreditation. Consider doing this exercise in a small group setting such as a Leader Day or Area Workshop, if available.

Goals of this exercise:

  • To identify our own biases, conscious and unconscious, and understand how these can affect communication with mothers, parents, Leaders, and healthcare professionals.
  • To learn the difference between a conscious and unconscious bias.
  • To raise awareness and learn how minimizing the effects of one’s biases can lead to productive and satisfying communication

Bias is a strong inclination of the mind or a preconceived opinion in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way that is considered to be unfair. Biases may be held by an individual, group, or institution and can have negative or positive consequences. They are beliefs that define our expectations; things we think of as “normal.”

There are two types of biases:

  1. Conscious or explicit bias. This includes any strongly held belief one has, for example, about a behavior or parenting choice.
  2. Unconscious bias or implicit bias. All of us have unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups which may be in conflict with our conscious beliefs. These are:
  • Learned stereotypes that are automatic, unintentional, deeply ingrained, widespread, and influence behavior.
  • Social stereotypes about certain groups of people that form outside our conscious awareness.

How might strongly held beliefs and unconscious biases affect a Leader’s ability to help someone?

As Leaders, we may have such strongly held beliefs that we are amazed that anyone could seriously disagree with them. When our beliefs are challenged, we may show disapproval (verbally or nonverbally) of another’s opinion and not be open to new information. We may dismiss or feel threatened by any view that is different from our own. This creates a barrier to communication. If a mother or parent believes they have said something “wrong,” they may feel unwelcome and become silent; we may have lost the opportunity to help them. Unconscious biases may affect the way we welcome or respond to Leaders as well as parents. Unconscious biases may make us say or do things without our awareness that imply to others that they are not welcome or are somehow wrong in our estimation. We may not take extra effort to ensure that a parent feels warmly welcomed and accepted, when they are especially wary about attending a meeting.

What can we do to minimize the effects of our biases?

Thinking about our conscious and unconscious biases ahead of time can help us create a welcoming atmosphere at LLL meetings and when communicating with parents, Leaders or healthcare professionals. When we identify, recognize and accept our own beliefs as valid reasons for thinking as we do, we can accept that others may have valid but different views on the topic. This recognition of our beliefs allows us to step aside from our feelings about the issue, so that these biases don’t interfere with communication. Recognizing that everyone has unconscious biases and identifying our unconscious biases can raise them to a conscious level. This can help avoid “conversation-stopping” messages.

Thinking about Conscious Biases

What is one conscious bias or “hot topic” you have a strong opinion about? Some examples might be home birth, vegetarianism, bed sharing, homeschooling, staying at home, and methods of discipline.

What reasons do you have for believing as you do?

List at least three reasons someone might hold a different opinion on this topic.

Imagine a situation or helping question related to this bias that might be challenging for you. How might you respond so that the other person feels respected and understood even if they have a different opinion from yours?

Thinking about Unconscious Biases

Parents and Leaders in your community might have a different race, ethnicity, faith, identity, language, culture, ability, income level or educational level than you or the attendees at your meetings.

How comfortable do you feel with people who are different from you?

How would you describe the mothers and parents who attend the Group’s Series Meetings?

What groups in your community are not represented at your meetings?

Where could you go or where could you find resources to help you be more accessible or welcoming to one of the groups currently not attending your meetings?

Are there changes you could make so that LLL is accessible and comfortable to different populations within your community? (In some Areas this may mean having meetings in different languages, at different times, or in different formats.)