'Conventional' unconscious bias (UB) training focuses on raising awareness of biases – to do with (for instance) gender or race – in the workplace.
Its objective: to make the workplace more diverse, inclusive and equitable.
However, research points out that conventional UB training does not work.
By limiting itself to raising awareness and sending the message that biases are involuntary and widespread, conventional UB training can make people feel that these biases are beyond our control and thus unavoidable.
Conventional UB training does not lead to behavioural change in the workplace.
Moreover, it can even backfire and lead to more discrimination instead of less!
Effective UB training helps participants act on their awareness of bias.
By focusing both on raising awareness of bias as well as building the necessary skills for reducing bias.
By teaching people how to manage their biases and how to change their behaviour.
To make UB training even more effective, organizations should:
Make sure training is long enough for participants to interact with each other and to discover things they have in common.
Make the change in people’s beliefs and behaviours stick by starting other diversity-related initiatives simultaneously, rethink policies and introduce behavioural nudges.
"Imagine a weight-loss programme that told participants to step on the scale and left it at that. Yet that is exactly what most UB training does. Ony 10% of conventional UB training programmes give attendees strategies for reducting bias."
Francesca Gino, Harvard Business Review, September 2021
Leaders across the globe are striving to make their organizations more diverse, inclusive and equitable.
Rightly so. Two evidence-based findings:
Bias in the workplace is widespread. To deal with an overload of information, our brain uses mental shortcuts to make snap judgments on people, their talents and character. However, such snap judgments are often based on characteristics as gender and race. They result in the (subtle or less subtle) exclusion of minority groups in the workplace.
There is a large cost of employees' feeling excluded at work: a cost that can be measured in terms of increased turnover, decreased employee motivation, and so on.
The current go-to-approach:
'conventional' unconscious bias training
In their efforts to increase diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), many organizations resort to so-called 'conventional' unconscious bias (UB) training.
'Conventional' UB training seeks to raise awareness of the mental shortcuts that lead to snap judgments on people, their talents and potential.
Its underlying assumption? Individuals who are aware of the widespread nature of bias in the workplace, will also behave in a less biased way at work. For instance when making decisions on hiring and promoting, and when dealing with colleagues and customers.
The problem with conventional unconscious bias training?
It doesn't work. (1)
(1) Patrick S. Forscher, et. al. (2019). "A meta-analysis of procedures to change implicit measures" Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.