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Implicit bias training expands at NIU

October 7, 2019

At least half of new faculty hires at NIU this past year were people of color as a result of the hard work and collaboration between college deans, academic department chairs and search committee members, as well as implicit bias training.

Based on the success of the initiative, the training has become mandatory as of Oct. 1 for those participating in Supportive Professional Staff searches. The training already is mandatory for members of faculty search committees.

“It’s everybody’s responsibility and, moreover, it’s everybody’s unique opportunity to be able to contribute to diversity and inclusion,” said Roselyn Snell, executive director of Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity and Education, a newly formed office with Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

“That includes diversity in thought, ability, in our work and how we play and how we interact with one another.”

The training, entitled Achieving Excellence in Recruiting: Reducing Implicit Bias in Search Committees, provides an understanding of how unconscious bias can have an impact on employee recruiting, how applicants are evaluated and the interview process.

The human brain is overloaded with 11 million pieces of information every second. In that one-second window, the brain can only process about 40 pieces of information.

Whether knowingly or not, people tend to rely on past experiences to make snap judgements of one another, Snell said.

“It’s human nature because we get so much information at one time, what we hear, smell, see. We use all of our senses to make decisions,” she said. “Research demonstrates we all experience unconscious bias.”

The training helps people recognize those potential biases and perhaps check themselves. It also refers departments and search committees to online forms and samples to formulate publicity plans, search committees, the applicant screening process and interviews.

“Prejudice and discrimination are detrimental to the success of any organization,” Snell said. “At a minimum, we hope some of our implicit bias training decreases some prejudice and discrimination by making people aware and giving them the tools to minimize those prejudices.”

More than 600 faculty and staff have completed implicit bias training since the program launched in September of 2018. Search committee members must be trained once a year. The training is not yet mandatory for those participating in civil service employee training, but that may change in the future, Snell said. However, it is still best practice, she added.

The goal is to diversify applicant pools, be inclusive in the hiring process, make strong offers to diverse candidates when they are selected and provide a supportive environment for new hires.

Contributing to the initiative, Alan Clay has been hired as associate director of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity to oversee the recruitment process, working with departments to develop diversity recruitment plans and to provide expertise and guidance in best practices and procedures for the university search process.

Hired in May 2019, Clay comes from the University of Illinois at Urbana -Champaign where he assisted various departments with developing policies and procedures for the academic search process.

Since the addition of the training, at least 50 percent of faculty searches have resulted in diverse hires, Snell said.

“That’s been the work of the entire university. It’s very collaborative,” she said. “We’re hoping as we broaden this initiative, we will also see more diversity in our SPS hires.”

The 1-hour, 30-minute session entails a presentation, a review of case studies and an interactive portion in which participants pair up and share, said Rose Henton, director of Coordinated Education, Training and Outreach Programs, who conducts the training.

Participants are encouraged to be open-minded and objective. They’re asked to redact names on applications, as well as any identifying or geographic information, so they can look at the applications as objectively as possible.

Henton encourages participants to ask themselves, “Why?” when it comes to making a decision about a person’s qualifications for the position and to question others on the search team on their reasoning behind selecting one candidate over another.

“A lot of times we want someone who thinks and acts like us and has the same experience,” Snell said.

Participants are reminded to refer back to the position description and think through their choices when selecting candidates and ultimately employees.

The training also encourages participants to recognize points of pride at NIU and within their own departments so they can promote the university to applicants.

“NIU is a quality university and we need to focus on what we provide to the candidate, as well as what the candidate can offer us,” Snell said.

To register for training, visit For questions and more information, email [email protected] or visit the FAQ page of Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity and Education.