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PAUSE: A Framework to Disrupt Everyday Bias

Posted by on Wednesday, August 26, 2020 in Uncategorized .

by Dr. Lourdes Estrada (MSTP LT)

As a participant in a recent training session offered by Vanderbilt University on “Disrupting Everyday Bias,” I was expecting to hear the same concepts I had previously learned in implicit bias trainings. I was pleasantly surprised to learn a new framework (PAUSE) that I can practice in my daily professional and personal life. In this article, I share the framework with you in the context of a self-identified bias with the hope that you can find ways to practice this skill in your own experience.

First, let me define implicit or unconscious bias: 1) the “inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group, especially in a way considered to be unfair”1, 2) “attitudes towards people or associate stereotypes with them without our conscious knowledge.”2, and my favorite statement, 3) “if you are human, you are biased”3.

After careful reflection, I realized that I, too, have some degree of unconscious bias. After all I am human. For example, as part of my lived experience and as someone who identifies as a woman (pronouns she/her/hers), I was consistently taught to be alert to the dangers of walking alone, at night, and to the  potential physical attack. This, of course, is good common-sense advice. To this day, this is so engrained in my “automatic” brain that when I walk alone at dusk or nighttime during low foot traffic times, I am much more alert of my surroundings. In general, this is a good practice endorsed by media and public safety officials. On one occasion that stays present in my mind, I heard steps behind me and after slowly looking back I realized it was an unknown man. I did all my discrete preparations (i.e., keys in my hand, move to the side, phone ready, ready to run…) as I have been taught. Once we both arrived at the elevator, I decided not to board the elevator with him alone and rather take another route to my car. I remember feeling guilty for this decision and thinking: this man could be the one that “saves” me from danger but here I was assuming he could be the one to “attack” me. 

You may wonder why this particular occasion made such a lasting impression. What was so concerning about this particular event? I have, of course, previously approached many elevators with strangers and had a different reaction. I believe that what made it so significant is that I was able to reflect right after my decision and the feeling of guilt surfaced.

In this particular example, my unconscious bias led me to decide to not board the elevator with the unknown man. Would I have made a different decision if I would have used the PAUSE approach? I put that to the test with the advantage of time to reflect rather than needing to make a split decision.

P is for pay attention. First, I would take a survey of my reaction to the situation: physical reaction (increased heart rate), emotions (fear), data (unknown man, poorly lit area, no-one else close by). I would also notice some positive data such as someone just got off the elevator, the garage is not totally deserted, and there are security cameras.

A is for acknowledge your assumptions. Secondly, I would acknowledge that my assumptions are that men equal threat to my safety in this setting. 

U is for understand your perspective. Thirdly, I would understand that my bias towards men in this situation is a learned behavior that has been supported by many including safety officers, media—I am a huge fan of Law and Order SVU— and loved ones.

S is for seek different perspectives. Fourth, I would consider that not all men pose a threat to my safety. I would remind myself that women could also be a threat. I will also understand that a most of the images that I see on the media report men attacking women, but I hardly ever hear reports of women being the attacker. Or, I could think that the man might be thinking he is helping me by walking close and keeping me safe from another potentially dangerous person. I could also contemplate that I am not at all in danger.

E is for examine your options and make a decision. Finally, with all this new data and perspectives I would rethink my options. Would I make a different decision? After reflecting on the steps above, I can see alternative options: 1) I could slow down my pace, acknowledge the person behind me, strike a light conversation to better assess the situation, and make a more informed decision or 2) I could make the same decision to avoid any interaction understanding that my bias influenced my decision. 

In the end, there is no right answer. The answer is whatever you feel is best for you. But from this exercise, you would come out with an understanding and awareness of your own biases and how that impacts the daily decisions you make towards people (or associated stereotypes) without your conscious knowledge. And although “if you are human, you are biased”3, that doesn’t excuse us from being held accountable for the choices we make. 

I encourage you to try the PAUSE approach in your life to gain awareness on how your biases might be treating others unfairly and to find options for new decisions.


  1. Oxford English and Spanish Dictionary
  3. Ross, Howard J. Everyday Bias: Identifying and Navigating Unconscious Judgments in Our Daily Lives. 2014. Print