As humans, we all have biases. In fact, research indicates that we innately perceive anyone different from us as a threat. Understanding this is really important for us to be able to accept what is typically a difficult notion.
Many people assume that unconscious bias training is the be all and end all of D&I. However, there are a number of evidence points that suggest unconscious bias training doesn’t work in isolation; a one-off training session can’t undo structural inequality that builds intrinsic bias. Training alone can also backfire and create a sense that bias can be ‘trained away’.
Unconscious bias training courses exist to help us understand our biases, but they cannot be seen as a ‘quick fix’. Admit you will always hold bias – the identification of which will be the outcome of a training course – and commit to checking your bias continually.
A 2019 study in the Harvard Business Review underlines that mandatory diversity training such as unconscious bias training can do more harm than good, if they are not part of a broader programme of organisational change. Employees can’t be made to feel forced into action. Instead, they need to be taken on a long-term journey of change and improvement.
Pragya Agarwal, author of Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias says:
“It [bias training] has to be an ongoing process of educating ourselves and watching ourselves. Then we have to make really important decisions. We have to try to neutralize our stereotypes by making sure that we don’t fall back on them. Especially when hiring and doing recruitment, people tend to follow confirmation bias. We are more attracted to people who perhaps went to the same university as we did, who come from the same town, who dress a certain way or speak a certain way. When a person walks into a room, you’ve already made these judgements about them whether you like them or not.”
It’s also becoming increasingly common to offer culturally specific training to help leaders grow in their career. Sheldon Mills, Interim Executive Director of Strategy and Competition at FCA and chair of Stonewall UK, argues that organisations could be much more supportive of the leadership pipeline, particularly for Black leaders. It’s important to consider supportive programmes geared to people’s specific experiences and create nuanced training that brings out the best in all of your employees.
D&I training checklist
Acknowledge that unconscious bias training alone will not instigate the long-term changes that might be needed within your organisation.
Undertake an employee survey to understand the areas where your team needs extra support (e.g. understanding inclusive language, hiring for diversity, or embedding inclusive recruitment marketing). You can start with these 20 questions from CultureAmp.
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