April 8, 2024

Are Cherry LifeSavers Really the Best? Pausing to Reflect on Biases

by Paula Steffen, M.A.


This document may be printed, photocopied, and disseminated freely with attribution. All content is the property of the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership.

When you look in the mirror, what do you see? You will likely quickly notice some obvious features— the shape of your face, nose, and mouth, and the color of your skin, hair, and eyes. But what requires a deeper level of self-reflection is what’s inside – what we think and feel, our values and beliefs, and personal preferences, as well as our thoughts, likes, and dislikes.

If we look hard enough in the mirror, we will see that we are all biased. I am biased. You are biased. And these biases affect how we interact with others, form judgments, and develop societal attitudes.

According to Merriam-Webster, a bias is a tendency, inclination, or prejudice toward or against something or someone. As a child, I loved cherry LifeSavers. In fact, I couldn’t figure out why the Mars candy company would even bother to put the pineapple LifeSavers in the packet. They were my least favorite –  to the point that I threw them away. You can imagine my delight when they came out with a roll of ONLY the cherry flavor! Based on my taste preference, I was biased in favor of the cherry LifeSavers and against the pineapple. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized some people loved the pineapple LifeSavers as much as I loved the cherry.

My bias or preference for cherry LifeSavers was relatively harmless. However, when we exhibit favoritism or discrimination against certain groups, particularly based on their traits such as race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, or abilities, it can have a detrimental impact.

Personal biases can be implicit (unconscious) or explicit (conscious), and at times, they are easily spotted, while other times, they show subtly in our decisions or interactions with others. Either way, as early childhood leaders, it is essential to pause and reflect on our own biases and help staff understand the importance of reflecting on their biases. As a center administrator, I practiced reflecting on my personal biases by journaling about times in the day that caused me to pause or the situations that “hit a nerve.” This allowed me to consider whether my assumptions were accurate, the other person’s perspective, and why I felt the way I did in the moment.

As you can imagine, failing to recognize and address our biases can have disastrous results, setting the stage for stereotyping, prejudice, and inequity. In their book, “Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People,” Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald suggest several proactive steps individuals can take to address their unconscious biases, starting with:

  • Be self-aware: Take time to observe your thoughts and reactions in various situations throughout the day. Are there any instances where you notice automatic judgments or assumptions about others? What might be underlying these biases? Below are two situations for you to reflect on to practice self-awareness.
    • Reflect on a recent interaction you had with someone from a different cultural background. Were there any moments where you noticed biases or assumptions influencing your thoughts or behaviors?
    • Think about a time when you made a snap judgment about someone. What factors do you think contributed to that judgment? How might those factors be influenced by bias?

Self-awareness is a critical part of working with young children because our biases influence how we care for children and how we lead program staff. In the 3rd edition of Program Administration Scale (PAS-3), an assessment tool for measuring and improving Whole Leadership in early care and education programs, Drs Talan, Bella, and Bloom highlight the importance of administrators reflecting on personal bias as well as providing staff with opportunities to reflect on biases and their influence on behaviors.

  • Education: Raise your and your program’s awareness about bias through trainings and educational programs. This can include workshops, seminars, or online courses designed to help individuals understand the nature and impact of bias. Again, the PAS-3 recognizes the value of continuing education by emphasizing the importance of professional development opportunities exploring diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • Mindfulness: Practicing mindfulness techniques can help us become more attuned to our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, enabling us to identify and counteract biases as they arise.
  • Question Assumptions: Banaji and Greenwald encourage us to question our assumptions and stereotypes about others. By challenging preconceived notions, we can avoid making snap judgments based on bias.
  • Seek Diverse Perspectives: Actively seeking out diverse perspectives and experiences can help counteract bias by broadening one’s understanding of different groups and cultures. Over the years, I have been exposed to so many wonderful treats, and while I still enjoy the occasional cherry LifeSaver, my life is much richer because I have had opportunities to explore other candies, including my now favorite – anything chocolate.
  • Create Inclusive Environments: In workplaces and other settings, fostering inclusivity and diversity can help mitigate the impact of bias. This can involve implementing policies and practices that promote fairness and equality for all individuals.
  • Hold Yourself Accountable: Finally, Banaji and Greenwald emphasize the importance of holding oneself accountable for addressing bias. This includes acknowledging mistakes, apologizing when necessary, and committing to ongoing efforts to challenge and overcome bias.

Below is a list of resources that might be helpful as you begin to look in the mirror and reflect on your own biases. As leaders in the early childhood care and education field, we must recognize and address our personal biases so we can create inclusive environments where children can thrive. Commit with me to challenging bias to build a brighter future for all children.


  • Banaji, M. R., & Greenwald, A. G. (2016). Blindspot: Hidden biases of good people. Bantam Books.
  • Chugh, D. (2021). Person you mean to be: How good people fight bias. Harper Business.
  • Deiner, P. L. (2013). Inclusive early childhood education: Development, resources, and Practice. Wadsworth.
  • Derman-Sparks, L., Edwards, J. O., & Goins, C. M. (2020). Anti-bias education for Young Children & Ourselves. National Association for the Education of Young Children.
  • DiAngelo, R., & Tatusian, A. (2016). White Fragility. Public Science.
  • Eberhardt, J. L. (2020). Biased: Uncovering the hidden prejudices that shape our lives. Windmill Books.
  • Page, S. E. (2019). The Diversity Bonus: How Great Teams pay off in the knowledge economy. Princeton University Press.
  • O’Sullivan, J., & Cigman, J. (2018). Bias in the Early Years: Supporting Inclusion and Equality in Early Childhood. Sage Publications.


  • Implicit Association Test (IAT) – Developed by researchers at Harvard University, the IAT is a widely used tool for measuring implicit biases. You can take the test online to gain insights into your own biases.
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Training Programs – Many organizations offer DEI training programs that address personal biases and provide strategies for creating more inclusive environments.



Unconscious bias training. Unconscious Bias Training | Office of Diversity and Outreach UCSF. (n.d.). https://diversity.ucsf.edu/programs-resources/training/unconscious-bias-training

Are you aware of your biases? Harvard Business Review. (2023, July 27). https://hbr.org/2022/02/are-you-aware-of-your-biases

Banaji, M. R., & Greenwald, A. G. (2016b). Blindspot: Hidden biases of good people. Bantam Books.

Talan, T. N., Bella, J., & Bloom, P. J. (2022). Program administration scale: Measuring Whole Leadership in early childhood centers. Teachers College Press.

Paula Steffen, M.A., is the Manager for Quality Supports and Evaluation for the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership at National Louis University. In this role, she serves as a National Anchor for the Program Administration Scale (PAS) and Business Administration Scale for Family Child Care (BAS) and oversees all certification processes related to these tools. Previously, she served as a State Assessor conducting assessments using the PAS, BAS, Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS), and Environment Rating Scale (ERS) tools for ExceleRate – Illinois’ Early Childhood Quality Rating and Improvement System. In addition, she was the Illinois State Assessor Anchor for the PAS, BAS, and Infant Toddler Rating Scale (ITERS). Prior to joining the McCormick Center in 2007, Paula was the Professional Development Manager for Illinois Network of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies, co-owned a child care center, and worked as a director and professional development advisor in both Head Start and community college-based programs. Paula holds a Baccalaureate degree in family and consumer sciences from Iowa State University and a Master of Education in early childhood administration from National Louis University.