Without realizing it, implicit bias can hinder a fair and equitable search for new employees. At Washington State University, plans are underway to bring more awareness to those biases as a way to build a more inclusive group of faculty and staff.

The key according to Jaime Nolan, associate vice president of Community, Equity, and Inclusive Excellence (CEIE), is for search committee members to become more aware of their own biases before they get involved in recruiting and selecting others to work at WSU.

In partnership with many areas including Academic Affairs, Human Resource Services, the Faculty Senate, and the Faculty and Staff Working Group, Nolan plans to unveil a comprehensive implicit bias awareness workshop for the WSU community in the fall.

“We all have a variety of implicit biases as its part of being human,” Nolan said. “You could be biased against someone who lives in urban areas or are more drawn to introverts over extroverts. Implicit bias is not only about race, ethnicity or gender.”

Theresa Elliot-Cheslek, associate vice president and chief human resource officer for WSU’s Human Resource Services, said there are already some good tools available to search committees on the HRS website (https://hrs.wsu.edu/managers/recruitment-toolkit/implicit-bias/) including an implicit bias test, articles and video.

Nolan’s team plans to utilize some of these resources during the fall workshop and expand the toolkit over time.

“It is exciting to see the renewed passion around this type of work,” Elliot-Cheslek said. “The initiatives being planned will certainly enhance the university’s efforts to increase diversity among faculty and staff.”

Seeking new perspectives

WSU senior James Dalton has been an active member of the working group and understands the importance and value of having a diverse workforce on campus. He started taking classes on the Pullman campus a couple of years ago as an older student after serving in the Army. His adjustment to being a student at WSU went fairly smoothly, but he didn’t feel a strong connection here until he enrolled in a class taught by a veteran.

“I keyed-in with that professor right away because we had a common bond,” Dalton said. “I saw him succeeding in life and it made me want to do the same.”

Students are not the only ones that benefit from faculty and staff with diverse backgrounds. Phyllis Erdman, co-chair of the working group and executive associate dean for Academic Affairs in the College of Education, said they bring new perspectives and ideas to the table that everyone can learn from.

“If you keep bringing in people that look like you, and have the same background as you, you are just recycling the same knowledge,” Erdman said. “Hearing other perspectives helps us to ask questions that we don’t even know to ask.”

She said the awareness workshop will not only help search committee members discover their own biases, it will teach them how they can influence the creation of job descriptions, the way job applicants are reviewed, ranked and ultimately selected.

Cultivating commitment

During WSU President Kirk Schulz’ recent State of the University Address, he said there were vibrant discussions among university leaders about whether the implicit bias workshop should be mandatory for search committee members. Ultimately, it was decided the best approach is to strongly encourage search committees to participate while showing them the value the workshop adds to the search process.

“I want people on search committees to say it’s a high priority for us to hire diverse faculty and staff,” Schulz said. “Participating in implicit bias training is an important step toward creating a university community that reflects the rich diversity of the people of our state.”

The Diverse Faculty and Staff Working Group has made the initiative on implicit bias training a priority. The group consists largely of high-level individuals including deans and faculty. Erdman said they are fully onboard with the plans and will strongly encourage search committees in their areas to participate.


  • Jaime Nolan, Associate Vice President for Community, Equity, and Inclusive Excellence, 509-335-3532, Jennifer.nolan@wsu.edu