Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A Step Back, A Step Forward, and a Commitment to Change

Written by: on March 9, 2023

“The truth can be uncomfortable, but if we don’t face reality [our] implicit biases will shape and transform our society in a way that we had never thought possible.”[1] I took some valuable steps backward and forward this week while reading Pragya Agarwal’s book, Sway, and emerged with new learnings and new commitments.

Pragya Agarwal’s Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias

Pragya Agarwal, in her book, Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias, brings together her own research on the human brain, behavior, society and psychology, along with the research of other experts to present a scientific explanation of why we act and think the way we do.[2] Agarwal, a behavioral scientist, focuses on implicit bias, which she defines as “those biases that exist without our conscious knowledge, the ones that manifest themselves in our actions and reactions often without us realising it…”[3] Though Agarwal notes this was a difficult book to write, as talking about discrimination and prejudice isn’t easy, she emphasizes the importance of considering the ways in which our contemporary society shapes us, saying,

“It is about understanding the way we put up walls between ‘us’ and ‘them’ before we even realise we are doing so, how we interpret the messages we get from the media and the politicians, and the attempts to make sense of the noise and understand how biases shape the way we react to these messages.”[4]

She notes that we all carry unconscious bias. “We judge, we exclude people, we stereotype.”[5] We must raise awareness within ourselves and in our community as to why we act the way we do, so as to make clearer sense of who we are, who we want to be, and who we will become.[6]

Taking a Step Back from the Text

After reading Agarwal’s book, I took a step back to digest her message on implicit bias. My first thought was, “God, what have we done? We have come so far from what you intended for your people and your world. Help us. What are we to do?” My next thought was, I need to continue working on myself. I want to be aware of my own prejudices and change the ways I think and act. And, in my position as a leader, I want to create safe places for people to see their biases and make positive changes, as well.

I am thankful for family, friends, and colleagues who shine a light on my personal stereotypes so that I can see them. For example, an opportunity to see and unravel some unconscious biases came when my husband and I got married. We bumped into hidden prejudices we held around people from various political parties, cities, churches, and careers. We even had differing stereotypes toward people who shopped at different grocery stores. Because we got married after decades of living in different environments, our biases were embedded deeply in our being, making them hard to see and change. We have learned that we must change. In committing to learn and with the help of others, we can grow and see more clearly.

Taking a Step into the Text

While reading Agarwal’s book, I noticed that she brought attention several times to the Implicit Association Test (IAT), which was developed in 1998 by Anthony Greenwald at the University of Washington for the purpose of measuring automatic implicit associations.[7] The test has been broadly used in the United States to show people their attitudes of which they were unaware.[8] The IAT rang a bell for me. I dug into my materials at work and discovered that this is one of the tools we use to train our host home providers when they are preparing to house a high school student in our program. There is a problem with the test. Agarwal pointed out that the test “faced controversy in terms of what it measures and how reproduceable the results are.”[9] I did some further research to confirm this and found that many researchers feel the test needs additional scrutiny, as reliability has been shown to be “poor.”[10]

I am embarrassed to say that I did not more thoroughly investigate this tool, and because it is attached to a website which includes “Harvard,” I deemed it trustworthy, given Harvard University’s strong academic reputation.[11] This revealed some of my hidden biases. As the leader of our team, I am responsible to explore the validity of all materials used in our program, even if they come prepackaged with what I think is a “legitimate” label. I now can make a change in our training materials to provide more valuable resources regarding implicit bias for our home providers and team.

Action Steps

Having gained some important information through my reading of Sway and in my contemplation of unconscious bias, I have some action steps to implement.

  1. Make a concerted effort to identify my prejudices that sway my thinking and acting in negative ways. Invite knowledgeable individuals to point out the biases they see in me. Make changes.
  2. Remove the IAT from our training materials at work and find new ways to discuss and learn about implicit bias with our team and home providers.
  3. Research local experts in implicit bias. Invite them to train our team and home providers in further understanding the ways we think and act, so that we can make positive changes.


I am thankful for Pragya Agarwal’s message, which has challenged me to be more sensitive to implicit bias in my own life. I am also grateful for the insight I discovered in her book regarding the use of the IAT. I want to be aware of my own biases, make changes, and extend the opportunity for growth to my team. Together, may we contribute to creating a just and vibrant community for every person.





[1] Pragya Agarwal, Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias (New York, NY: Bloomsbury Sigma, 2020), 23.

[2] Agarwal, 15-16.

[3] Agarwal, 16.

[4] Agarwal, 22-23.

[5] Agarwal, 22.

[6] Agarwal, 23.

[7] Agarwal, 225.

[8] Project Implicit, https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/education.html.

[9] Agarwal, 225.

[10] Craig Frisby, “Prejudice Under the Microscope: The Implicit Association Test (Part II),” Jan 13, 2021, https://www.mindingthecampus.org/2021/01/13/prejudice-under-the-microscope-the-implicit-association-test-part-ii/; and J. Sukhera, M. Wodzinski, M. Rehman, C.M. Gonzalez. “The Implicit Association Test in health professions education: A meta-narrative review.” Perspect Med Educ. 2019 Oct;8(5):267-275. doi: 10.1007/s40037-019-00533-8. PMID: 31535290; PMCID: PMC6820611.

[11] See https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html for a link to the IAT. It is unclear if the test is directly linked to the Harvard University website, as Project Implicit seems to be its own entity. More research is needed to determine the sponsoring source.

About the Author

Jenny Steinbrenner Hale

12 responses to “A Step Back, A Step Forward, and a Commitment to Change”

  1. Kristy Newport says:

    How incredibly thoughtful, you are!
    several thoughts-
    I enjoyed hearing your inner thoughts as you stepped back from the text. As the reader of your blog, I appreciated how you wanted to be mindful of how the book was hitting you personally.
    The IAT sounds very interesting. It’s great that this test came to your mind and you looked into it further. What a fantastic DOCTORate student you are in looking into the assessment tools that are used by your non profit. Good job- doing some homework and finding out about the reliability of this tool!

    I am curious if you have evaluated other assessments that you use after this discovery with IAT?

    • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

      Hi Kristy, Thanks for your comments and your question. I haven’t yet looked at the other tools, but we will do that. We had a social worker on our team who was putting together our home provider trainings and including particular useful tools for that training. She is no longer with us, but I think she gave us a good start in including “implicit bias” in our training curriculum. Now, we just need to ensure we’re doing the best job we can do, given new awareness. This was a good reminder to me that I still am responsible for our overall team output, even if I’m not creating it all. We’ll be looking into the other materials we use soon. I’m sending an email to a few people on the team today so we can do this together.

      I appreciate your thoughts!

  2. mm Chad McSwain says:

    Hi Jenny – it is amazing to hear the direct application of Agarwal to your work. I’m curious if you are able to briefly shed light on the ways that the IAT falls short as an assessment tool? I am curious what you learned particularity since it is widely used. The “Harvard Bias” would get us all. Thanks for sharing.

    • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

      Hi Chad, Thanks for your comments and question. Sure, from what I found, the IAT doesn’t seem to measure, according to many researchers, implicit bias, as it claims. Instead, it measure how familiar a person is with common stereotypes. Also, if a person takes the test multiple times, their scores can be quite different every time. Overall, many experts give the test a reliability score of “poor.” As an assessment tool of implicit bias, it doesn’t seem to be the strongest. It’s interesting, though, that so many orgs still use it. I’ll keep my ears open to other thoughts on the tool, but in the mean time, we’ve pulled it from our work.

  3. mm David Beavis says:

    Hey Jenny,

    As always, a thorough and exceptionally high-quality post.

    The opening line you quoted from Agarwal caused me to pause also.

    “The truth can be uncomfortable, but if we don’t face reality [our] implicit biases will shape and transform our society in a way that we had never thought possible.”

    I’ve been re-engaging with Dallas Willard’s book “The Renovation of the Heart.” This is a book all about Spiritual Formation being a process, in partnership with God’s Spirit, to shape our character from the inside out into the likeness of Jesus. Off the top of your head, what are some Spiritual Formation practices you could see being helpful in interrogating our unconscious biases?

    • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

      Oh wow, I like that question. I’ll have to give that some thought. Off the top of my head, it seems like praying for God to show us our implicit bias and listening carefully and over a good amount of time might be helpful. Also, what about Lectio Devina that would focus on a particular passage that talks about God examining our hearts? Or, going out on a limb with some brainstorming, I wonder if we could develop a spiritual practice around trail running or walking that would aim at recognizing God and creation as wildly beyond our human understanding, with the result that we more clearly understand our place in the world: loved and redeemed, and no better than anyone else, negating our biases as they come into view. I could possibly use that in my NPO. 🙂

      Thanks, David!

  4. Jenny, great post this week. We rely on the Lord to help us be better every day. I like how you went straight making action and changing the tools you use in your work and leadership. I haven’t used IAT myself, but you are right at times I also take labels for authenticity without scrutiny.

    • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

      Thanks, Jean, for your thoughts and comments. Yes, thank you so much for your reminder that we can rely on God to make us better every day. I appreciate your insights.

  5. Tonette Kellett says:


    As always, I loved your post. I especially loved your application and action steps. How are you going to identify your own biases, may I ask? It can be difficult I think.

    • Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

      Hi Tonette, Thanks for this great question! I’ve been thinking about that this week. I’ve been praying that God will help me to see more clearly in the area of my own biases. I’m also thinking carefully about who of my trusted family members or friends I might ask to help keep me accountable and point out biases when they see them. I’m dragging my feet a bit on that one.

      Hope you’ve had a good weekend. See you tomorrow!

  6. Alana Hayes says:

    What amazing application and action steps friend!

    In regards to using the insights from Agarwal’s book to become more aware of our own biases…. Which action step that you listed is harder for you to create a more equal environment?

  7. Jenny Steinbrenner Hale says:

    Hi Alana, Thanks for reading and for your question. The hardest action step is to ask a few people in my life to keep me accountable and point out what they think is implicit bias in my thinking and acting. I need to keep working on that.

    Appreciate your thoughts and questions!

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