Day 2 of PoCC: Mahzarin Banaji Shows Us How to Spot and Correct Our Blindspots

By Ari Pinkus posted 12-01-2015 05:45 PM


I’m Ari Pinkus, digital editor and producer at NAIS, and I’ll be blogging at the People of Color Conference in Tampa this week. You can follow me here and on Twitter @ajp112

The Tampa Prep Chamber Chorus kicked off the second day of PoCC with the song “I need your love.”



Mahzarin Banaji Shows Us How to Spot and Correct Our Blindspots

Dr. Mahzarin Banaji, author of Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People, led the audience through a provocative and, at times, uproarious talk about how implicit bias shows up in our everyday lives.

Most of the time our brains working on automatic, she said. She flashed a photo of a baby imitating a man making funny faces. “If people look like tiny versions of ourselves, we’ve done something wrong,”

Banaji would love nothing more than having a lab full of South Asian girls, but that would be terrible for the world, she said.

Why We Need to Pay Attention to the Voices at the Margins

She also showed a photo of two men walking with their hands behind their back and a young boy walking behind them, parroting them. Ten years ago, she said, someone saw two dads in the photo, but that wasn’t legally possible at the time this photo was taken in 1952. 

“Each of sits at the margins and the center and we move back and forth. The voices at the margin are important because they are the precursors of where we ought to be. If we’re smart, we’ll listen to them because they’re telling us where we’re going," she said.

You can’t determine talent, merit, and who’s going to make a difference based on first impressions. She cited the example of the Encyclopedia Britannica CEO and the up-and-comers of the Microsoft Corporation in the early 1980s. Think about what was going through the mind of the Encyclopedia Britannica CEO. “Would you have given your money to this group of people?” she says, showing a 1978 photo of Bill Gates and other young male colleagues with sideburns.


“We’re doing things that are just as embarrassing as the CEO of Encyclopedia Britannica," she said. “Every day I live in fear that I am missing talent.”

Into my office come people who look nothing like the white, middle-aged men who used to come into my office, she said. They’re valley girls. They speak in up talk and in a way showing that they never feel confident in anything they know. Every generation does something unique with their speech but “strip that away and you get to the core of something called the idea. We are so smart that we can outsmart our own minds,” Banaji said.

She mentioned halting faculty searches twice because they just drew in men. She dug to find out more and learned that women in the top 3-5 percent of their class were saying, “I didn’t think I was good enough for the job.” The advertisement was for an exceptional candidate and I didn’t think I was exceptional. Some people respond: If someone doesn’t have the confidence to apply here, they don’t belong here.

Banaji holds a different view. “Talent comes in all different shapes and forms. You have no idea who’s going to fit. Think about the bias that you carry around in your own head. It does not take millions of dollars to fix a bias, but it takes millions of years to create one.”

Someone she knows has a creative way to handle his bias during freewheeling conversations in meetings. He sketches a picture of the table they’re sitting around and writes each person’s name at his or her place around the table. During the meeting, her friend jots down a few notes next to the name of the person speaking. “Now he is able to give credit where credit is due,” Banaji said.

Exercises for Our Brains

She took us through a video exercise of people playing basketball and asked us to count the number of times the players in white T-shirts tossed the ball back and forth to each other. After we finished, she drew our attention to something unusual occurring in a couple of frames in the video: a woman with an umbrella walking in the middle. One member in the audience did notice the woman with the umbrella, and Banaji said you want this man on your staff. She added that in a brain scanner, all of our brains would have noted it. But you say, no, that’s not possible. “When the data contradict our expectations our expectations win,” she sums up. Think about how important this fact is in the classroom, in our hiring and selection process, she said.

Another exercise she asked us to engage with: Five people are trapped laying on one side of the railroad tracks. and one person is trapped laying on the other side. If you continue down the same track, five people will die; if you switch tracks, one person will die. Most people, 95 percent, say that they would switch tracks. In choosing this option, we’re following the British philosopher John Stuart Mill’s edict: the greatest good for the greatest number.

Add to the scenario a person on a bridge. If you pushed the person over the bridge, you could save the people on both sides of the tracks without switching tracks. But doing that would contradict another dominant philosophy: You have rights that are sacred, an idea championed by Immanuel Kant. The two philosophies are totally in conflict, Banaji said, but we need to be consistent and act on principle.

Then consider a twist to the exercise: replacing people with chimpanzees. People say, of course I would switch tracks. It’s heartening to know that they’re making same choice that they would for humans, Banaji said.

But they would push the chimp over the bridge. “Why when the creature is not like me, I suddenly think about the greatest good for the greatest number and not an individual’s rights," she said.

Resume Studies

She mentioned the significance of varying the first name of the candidate: John Smith v. Jamal Smith and controlling for everything else on the resume.

When you see that you choose John over Jamal again and again, you cannot walk away from that. There is a bias. If you have two different resumes (someone is of a different ethnicity, etc.), you’ll just naturally gravitate to one over the other. “You’re going to have to override that in a conscious way. Am I doing the right thing for my school?”

Note that both men and women show bias against women. In the clearest example, we offer men $4,000 more money when we hire, she said.


“Interviews are little petri dishes where bias can grow very fast,” Banaji said.

Structured interviews are good. Most interviews are not structured. She noted that we interview coworkers and friends all the time in everyday life. Interviews are unique in the kind of info they give; they can give us irrelevant or false info.

More Subtle Forms of Discrimination

We discriminate by helping certain kinds of people. We especially help people who are already advantaged, she said.

She noted a pop psychology magazine that she didn’t respect because it covered light topics such as "Four Ways to Cope After a Breakup." When someone from the magazine called her, she declined an interview. Then, as the two were about to hang up, the reporter said, “I used to be at Yale while you were teaching there.” Immediately, Banaji agreed to the interview. “I couldn’t turn Annie down because we shared a trivial connection.”

Institutions Making Progress on Hiring

She mentioned that orchestras have moved to blind auditions in which a person plays behind a curtain. For-profit institutions are making progress on hiring practices as well. “They want to make sure their shareholders are happy and they’re making money; whatever the reason they’re doing it faster than we are," she said. 

Why aren't universities and schools following suit? “Universities and schools are not changing because we believe we’re good people,” she said.

Succession Planning

When the rank and file are the same, that’s exactly when you need to think about succession planning, Banaji said.

She pointed to a case of a colleague's succession planning. In one instance, he passed out 20 blind (no name) biographies to the group. In the second, the group met in the board room and generated names in discussion. He shared the list with Banaji, and they were both blown away that the two lists had not one name in common.

She walked us through some of her well-known tests related to connecting gender, home, and career. Our responses underscored that it is more difficult to associate men with home than it is to associate women with career.

“People will say it’s not me; it’s the culture. But we are the culture,” Banaji said.

Her tests are available online at She recommended conducting a lesson about the test before giving it so that people can accommodate what is likely to happen.

“I think we are a learning species. We care to improve ourselves. We keep going back and back and try to beat the test and that’s the kind of people who will change themselves,” Banaji said.


 Day 1 of PoCC: The Quest to Attract and Retain Young Faculty of Color

I attended the highly instructive session: The young and the restless: How to recruit, recognize, and retain young faculty of color. It was a full room, and many young professionals packed the seats.

Copresenter Ashley Bradley, an English teacher and coordinator of diversity initiatives at The Baldwin School, mentioned that she attended an independent school for 13 years. Copresenter Brandon Jacobs is director of student activities and diversity coordinator at The Hill School. The two were high school classmates and graduated from The Hill School in 2007.

Why is this topic important? The stats explain. In 2001, 16.9 percent of students were of color at NAIS schools while 8.3 percent of faculty were of color. In 2014-2015, 29 percent of students at NAIS schools were of color while faculty numbers of color have stayed about the same. If you face the question of why diversifying is important, explain that it's for the students.

In a poignant example, Bradley cited the TEDx Spence Talk, in which a young African American male student described a teacher who made him feel special and who he knew was boss. Miss Marshall told him that a teacher has two roles. One is acting as a window, helping students see other people’s lives and experiences; the other is acting as a mirror, showing you yourself. 

Jacobs and Bradley asked us to ponder a case study: You are a K-12 independent day school outside of Cincinnati. You’re losing two female teachers of color. One has chosen to be close to family while other is going to another school. Below are profiles of three candidates of a ninth-grade English teaching position that you have. Please consider who you would contact for an interview. Next consider who you think would make a good addition to your school and who your school would hire?


Applicant 1:  Alison, 22, and African American, went to a private boarding school and graduated with a degree in English from Princeton University. She had a one-year teaching internship at a charter school and was a college athlete who can coach two sports. She lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

Applicant 2: Cynthia, 25, and Asian American, went to a public high school and graduated from Duke University. She spent three years teaching at a private school. She coaches model UN soccer. She lives in Boston.

Applicant 3: Linda, 28, and Latina American, went to a charter school and graduated from Temple University with a degree in English and received an MA from Middlebury College. She has taught for five years at a public school and teaches dance in school and leads a community service club. She lives in Indianapolis.

Who would you choose?

“We’ll take them all,” many in the room said half-jokingly and half-earnestly. On a more serious note, people said we have to look beyond the model of only considering someone with experience teaching in private schools. After we broke up into small groups, most agreed they would contact all three.


When we reconvened, a man said, “We would choose candidate 1. Something I just learned is that we don’t pay a lot.”

Another audience member said: What does the community want? What can we offer the applicant? He wanted to hire multiple candidates to give faculty some support.

Another went with candidate three. The rationale? “We live incestuously; bringing in people from different teaching backgrounds helps to enhance diversity and learning.”

Another said we don’t know about the cultural competency of these candidates; we need more information; we need to design questions and find out what they would bring to the school.


Their Research Explained

Jacobs and Bradley chose to interview people who were 22-33 years old, single or recently married, had under five years of experience, are presently working in an independent school, and identify as person of color (here Jacobs noted that this is not an assumption based on appearance but a choice)

Research involved recruitment, recognition, retaining practices, and they flashed eight profiles without names.

On Recruiting

  • Recognize the power of having a person of color involved in the interview process for all candidates;

  • Target and build relationships with local colleges (teaching fellowships);

  • Don’t assume people of color want to do diversity work;

  • Understand honesty is the best policy.

Consider offering fellowships. School took graduates into a program as a fellowship; helped create networks; provided an opportunity to try out boarding school for one year; gave fellows tools while they were there; and provided a connection between a school and candidate. Fellows learned through experience.

Maintain honesty. Don’t make the assumption that everyone wants to do diversity work. You can be shell-shocked when you first get to a boarding school. A new hire might say, “You didn’t tell me I was going to do this work.” People have been known to leave or stay at the school based on the honesty factor.

Bonus tip: Know how you’re ranked on Glassdoor (the Yelp for jobs).


On Recognizing

  • Fully recognize diversity work in contracts;

  • Groom faculty of color for leadership positions outside of diversity initiatives;

  • Acknowledge the different experiences young faculty of color might have compared to others.


Don’t confuse new faculty of color with students or other school personnel; introduce new hires to whole school.

The workload needs to make sense. Create or rework job descriptions. Jacobs and Bradley noted NAIS’s 30-40 job descriptions and NAIS books on diversity that can help.

Young faculty of color need to have support, which will help retain them.


On Retaining

  • Prove dedication to diversity through committees, PD, strategic plan, curriculum, students groups;

  • Establish and support faculty of color groups;

  • Support professional and personal development.

Find out how faculty identify themselves. Jacobs cited example of an African American man who didn’t want to be known as black but Jewish. Jacobs connected him with Jewish faculty.

Mentorship came across in all interviews as important, and Jacobs and Bradley recommended establishing a program if you don’t have one. People have to learn how to do taxes, eat on their own, make new friends, etc.

It’s helpful to have a young faculty group who can help as new faculty move in and get acclimated.

Jacobs described the way his school diversified organically over the last few years. “Now there are 26 of us under the age of 30.”




  • Reach out and reach within. Start with other area K-12 schools and local colleges to recruit; Jacobs called University of Pennsylvania’s education program, Temple University, and Bryn Mawr College. Also consider the subject area departments at colleges. Call the biology department if you’re looking for a biology teacher. Facebook is a good way to reach this generation. Word of mouth always works. When going to a hiring fair, ask the dean of faculty and current faculty to come along.  Jacobs followed this at Carney Sandoe’s diversity and inclusion job fair.

  • Be vigilant and be honest. "It’s crushing to hear: 'We want faculty of color but they’re not there.’ We are willing to be recruited if you want to find us,” Bradley said.


  • Take time to understand, support from the top and from within.

  • Show and tell. Need to have faculty of color groups and allow them to go to PoCC.


  • Establish support networks.

  • Make a plan and make it known. Not just a statement but a strategic plan; stay true to that idea; publicize it. Schools with future plans will be pursuing them in the present, too.

Some of their final thoughts: Having a diverse faculty is so important to changing your community. In independent schools, we concentrate on being a cultural fit and that prevents us from diversifying the way we should. If you have to hire new faculty of color every year, you have a retention problem. "The best way to recruit faculty of color is to have them at your school,” Bradley said.


Day 1 of PoCC:  “Daring Makes a Difference”

Intimately acquainted with the concepts of space and time, Mae Jamison, the first woman of color to go into space, mused over the great paradox of time – and how to leverage it to extraordinary lengths in life.

“While our time is limited,” she began, “we have limitless possibilities. There are 86,400 seconds in each day. You can do with those seconds exactly what you please.” She entreated the audience: “Join me on a journey across space and time. While people will tell you to take the little safe steps, I’m going to tell you to consider the extraordinary. That’s what going to make us move ahead.”

Jamison described growing up in the 1960s on the South Side of Chicago, where she remembers the national guard marching outside her home and being afraid for her father going to work.

At an early age, she admired trailblazers who broke boundaries. “I wanted to be like Judith Jamison,” she said, because she embodied an “openness to the world that I wanted to participate in.” 

The Apollo missions made an indelible impact on her then. “I played with Barbie dolls, had a chemistry set, and learned about the big bang theory.”

Jamison exuded confidence and credited those who helped her along the way.  “I was a very bright girl," she proclaimed, but noted the truth of the famous statement, “Even the sharpest blade can’t cut its own handle.” That’s what teachers and parents do, she continued. “I chose my parents well.”

She showed a PowerPoint slide reading: “Interest in the science is color blind and gender blind but along with the track to achieving in these disciplines, women and underrepresented minorities are often derailed by academic, socioeconomic, and workplace realities that are gender and color biased.”

100 Year Starship

Her new project, 100 Year Starship, aims to launch human beings into another star system in the next 100 years. She acknowledged that if someone were considering who would be in charge of this project, he or she might not see my face.

But we need to have more different kinds of thought, she says as she explored the question: Why does it make a difference that we have more women, Hispanics, Native Americans, and others in the STEM field?

Science and technology have long been part of our collective human experience. We learned to plant by the cycles of the moon and agriculture is very much about science and technology, she said. Science and technology compel us to consider issues as a nation, including advancing how we allocate our resources. We must consider who makes the decisions because they get to choose the topics covered and the data sets used as well as which problems are solved and in which order. 

“In Paris, while they’re talking about climate change initiatives, we have a bar that’s lower than it needs to be in terms of carbon emissions,” Jamison said.

Part of the problem is that we’re engaged in STEM disciplines with “one-third of the potential in the workforce,” Jamison said.

Women, in particular, begin to face discouragement to pursue STEM in college – just when they need to be buoyed most, according to a Barry facts of science survey.

Imposter Syndrome

It doesn’t help that women often suffer from the imposter syndrome, having a tendency to doubt their capabilities. For example, girls who score perfectly on the SATs say “I’m OK at math.”  This is significant because “the way you think about yourself affects what you choose to do.”

Ambient Belonging

Jamison described ambient belonging as who people think you ought to be and shared an example.

“I did this because I love Star Trek. David did this because he loves me.”

Bystander comment: “You are the trekkie. Usually it’s the other way around.”


She segued into the topic of genius and how we think about ourselves and the consequences. For example, consider parents’ common Google searches, according to The New York Times: Is my son a genius? Is my son behind? Is my daughter fact? Is my daughter ugly? Meanwhile, male professors are considered geniuses, while female professors are deemed nice. Now extrapolate from this, Jamison said: “Think about what this means when we fund research, who sets policy, etc.”

Genius takes us to the Flynn Effect, which is about being innately brilliant – not about undertaking hard work or teaching. “But if we learn how to teach people better, we help everyone, not just one group,” Jamison said.

She cited research of significant influences during STEM education:

  • At pre-college level, having a strong personal interest in science is 82 percent; at the undergrad level, it’s 86 percent

  • At pre-college level, having supportive parents is 69 percent; at the undergrad level, it’s 63 percent.

  • At pre-college level, having an inspiring, dedicated teacher is 66 percent; at the undergrad level, it’s 63 percent.

  • At pre-college level, self-confidence is 42 percent; at the undergrad level, it’s 44 percent.

In Uncharted Space, We Need to Rethink Everything We Know

Jamison’s new intersteller project requires us to revaluate what we know about everything because 90 percent is dark and there’s vast distance between objects, she said. Everything encompasses energy, propulsion, closed loop system, big data, navigation and sensing, clothing, sustainable agriculture, manufacturing breakthroughs, error detection systems, communication, financial innovation and funding methodologies and assessment, human health and medicine, human behavior and identity, education, ecosystems, nutrition and diet, microbes. “These are the minimum requirements for and impact of achieving a human intersteller journey,” she said.

Human behavior, however, is the biggest hurdle in this journey, she said. “You don’t want to get 10 years out, and someone says, ‘I’m not doing that.’ ”  Again, she invited everyone along because “we need the full scale of human potential.”

Jamison ended by describing empowerment, which requires believing in yourself and believing that you have the right to be involved. Then she outlined a call to action: “Acknowledge that you have something to contribute. Take the risk to contribute it.”


At PoCC Opening Ceremony, A Call to Everyone to Work Together Toward Diversity and Inclusion

In a humble, melodious opening, eight students and a teacher from Canterbury School of Florida Strings played violins to kick off the 28th annual People of Color Conference and the 22nd annual Student Diversity Leadership Conference.

 “Each year we come together … to effect social change,” said Katherine Dinh, chair of the NAIS Board head of Prospect Sierra School (California), welcoming a few thousand energized attendees.

She acknowledged the recent loss of NAIS President John Chubb, known for his commitment to serving all children equally well. “So many of us miss him. To best honor John, we must keep moving forward.”

“John pushed our schools to innovate,” she said, adding that “innovation and equity go hand in hand.” Dinh led the audience in a moment of silence to remember John.

We have much work to do to achieve equity and inclusion. Dinh referred to an NAIS study that our schools haven’t changed much. “It’s a matter of personal importance to me,” said Dinh, an Asian American female. Thirty-three percent of NAIS schools have female heads and 0.8 percent are Asian American.

“To all of you whether teacher or school leader in these shoes, I hear you and NAIS hears you,” she said. “Cultural competency, social justice, and peace can only be established when we have more diverse and inclusive schools.”

NAIS Interim President Donna Orem picked up and ran with Dinh’s rousing intro. “Equity is a core value for me and for NAIS…. It’s not just a moral imperative. It is vital for the continuation of our schools.”

Change has been incremental in the governance area of schools. NAIS has made progress by developing tools to assess a school’s multiculturalism and is committed to working with schools to attract and retain more heads of color and assessing cultural competency in the hiring process.

“Many of you have already pledged your support for this work…. You are NAIS. This is your organization. I hope that we who work for NAIS can be good stewards,” Orem said.

NAIS schools need to be open to more students – and be beacons of light. To take practical steps, NAIS is researching business models. “We can change access to our schools. We have to think about new structures and new ways of operating."

The strength of our community is our independence and we need to leverage that quality to make our schools better, Orem said. "We’re going to look for solutions through new lenses."

Then, Caroline Blackwell, vice president for equity and justice, took the stage, and noted that this is largest conference ever with more than 4,300 people, including 1,600 students and 2,750 adults from 40 states, four territories, and four countries. 

Blackwell addressed the significance of “being nourished from our own wells.” It’s vital that everyone in our schools be able to participate freely and confidently. She noted that equity work takes place within privileged structures and we need to be “ruthlessly honest with ourselves” about what fuels these structures and policies.

As she thanked attendees, she encouraged them to engage with one another to bring about more equitable practices in our schools.


Cool fact: Sanctuary was defined not only as a spiritual place but also a place where everyone can be themselves.


Rounding out the opening was Rodney Glasgow, a leader of SDLC who had the audience enraptured and roaring. “There are some days when you can lounge you can lounge around in your pajamas and watch Olivia Pope [of ABC’s Scandal drama] …. This is not that day.”

He addressed the different vantage points people are coming from with comments such as: “My father’s donation pays your tuition,” and “Did you earn that privilege or did it come from years of oppression?”

“There are some days that you just chill, but today is not that day,” he concluded.


On Eve of the 28th Annual People of Color Conference, a Q&A with NAIS’s Caroline Blackwell

“Art, Science, Soul, and the Equity Imperative” is the far-reaching theme for this year’s NAIS People of Color Conference happening in Tampa, Florida, from December 3-5, 2015. Shortly before the conference, I sat down with Caroline Blackwell, NAIS’s vice president for equity and justice, to learn more about this theme’s backstory and what she hopes attendees will take back to their schools and communities.  

Ari Pinkus: “How did you come up with the theme for PoCC this year?”

Caroline Blackwell: “We were interested in communicating the urgency about the work [of equity and justice]. We wanted it to relate to NAIS’s core values and what’s happening in our country around race and immigration. How do we fulfill the educational need to address equity in our schools?

“We also wanted to tackle the complexity of the human condition — not just the head space and heart space but the whole person and capture the spiritual dimension.

“The theme calls forth the beauty and delicacy of art in all iterations and the science of the mind and how we apply that [science] to the challenges we face today. It also honors the deep spirit to the work, the passion, and sense of connectedness to the greater whole [of society].

“We hope that people can connect to the experience in all ways and take something back that speaks to them.”


Pinkus: “What special features can attendees look forward to this year?”

Blackwell: “We’ve expanded our preconference experiences and the exhibit hall. The makerspace will continue, showing schools how to use makerspaces to address equity issues.

“We’ll have a wellness area with massage therapy. We created this space because it’s important to pay attention to people’s total well-being, and take care of not just our minds but our bodies.”


Pinkus: “What are two or three things you hope people take away from PoCC?”

Blackwell: “One of the things to take away is that the work of equity and inclusion and social justice is inextricably linked to excellence.

“I hope participants gain practical useful skills for the work they’re doing to support access, equity, and cultural proficiency as well as ideas for innovation.

“And I hope they leave the conference feeling that they’re part of a larger mission — that it’s essential not only to ensure our schools thrive but also contribute to the deep needs our country has. The work is connected beyond the independent school industry. We have a role to play in making education more accessible to students and families that have yet to find us and that we have yet to welcome.”