The Impact of Bias on Mentoring (part 1)
Bias can impact not only the individual who holds the bias but also the people with whom that person interacts. It can lead to making unfair and unjust conclusions and decisions, potentially limiting the opportunities of others, often including people from equity-seeking groups. When it comes to mentoring, confirmation, neurodiversity, and racial biases can impact the matching of peer supporters and support recipients, the type of support provided and the opportunities available to them.
For example, a peer supporter may unconsciously hold negative perceptions about a support recipient and thus may not value who they are or their accomplishments to the extent deserved. This can lead to support recipients receiving less or different (and perhaps unhelpful) forms of support or not truly being supported. If such is the case, the peer could miss out on opportunities for growth and development or even be harmed.
Bias can impact how peer supporters are matched with support recipients. For instance, a recipient from an equity-seeking group may be matched with a supporter whose positionality is different or has more power and privilege, thus more access to support and will not understand the barriers that may impede access.
Moreover, bias can affect how peer supporters respond to support recipients’ needs and concerns. Supporters may respond differently to recipients from different backgrounds or overlook or dismiss the unique challenges they face. Bias may seep into how one provides support. For instance, a peer supporter may be tempted to subtly (or not so subtly) seek to change the perspective of one who has a different viewpoint from their own. We need to critically ask in such an instance whether that action is helping at all, or rather, negatively imposing judgment and bias?
It is crucial for peer supporters to recognize the impact of bias in mentoring and take steps to mitigate it. By taking an equity-minded approach, where everyone is accessing opportunities and is authentically valued and not judged, supporters can ensure that they provide support in a respectful and equitable manner.