It's the latest buzzword: unconscious bias training. It's being offered at organizations across the globe, especially those who are interested in fostering inclusive cultures that actively cut down on the discriminatory behavior. While you've probably heard the basics of these trainings, or even begun research on how to host your own, there are certain things you must do to take this practice from buzzword to worth it. Here are ways to make unconscious bias training effective, along with what you need to know about unconscious bias before you work to banish it from your workplace.
Perhaps one of the hardest parts of leading an effective unconscious bias training is having participants who are willing to get the most out of it they possibly can. Unfortunately, getting people to take any corporate trainings seriously requires public and forthright buy in from leaders and decision makers.
Ensure that you have people within your organization speaking out on the importance of the training and encouraging others to attend with an open mind. Additionally, clear messaging that aligns the unconscious bias training with your corporate values and mission can help to encourage active participation and learning. Announce the training in a concise way and tell participants what they should be getting out of the training and how that helps them and the organization perform better.
While it's often tempting to host trainings online — sending everyone the module and letting them do what they will — in-person trainings are known to facilitate more attention. Holding your sessions in person also reiterates the importance of the trainings. At the same time, holding your training in person will also encourage real discussion between colleagues about bias. Fostering open, healthy discussion during your training is important for a host of reasons. First, discussions are more interesting than online PowerPoint slides any day. Also, discussion helps people connect what they're learning to real people — the situations they've been in, the emotions they've felt, the regrets they have and the challenges they've faced. This makes the training feel more real or serious and makes it more likely to make a human impact. Additionally, discussion can help break down challenging topics and allows people space to ask questions about the material to expand their understanding.
A fuzzy concept like unconscious bias can be difficult to nail down, especially when people are hesitant to open their minds to such a challenging topic. You can make the topic a bit easier to understand — and to talk about — by exemplifying it in specific, real-life situations. Hiring proven successful facilitators or using a well-regarded program can help you curate your curriculum to maximize this and to use other tips and tricks that make the actual lessons and discussions more successful.
The saying goes that change doesn't happen in a day. In order for your unconscious bias training to be truly successful, it should be ongoing and long-term. Attitudes on something as ingrained in society as unconscious bias won't change overnight and often requires many discussions and different approaches. Additionally, tackling unconscious bias isn't done successfully without constant upkeep — how are your participants doing at applying their teachings and catching their biases? How can they improve? Banishing unconscious bias is necessarily incremental.
Unconscious biases are prejudices or unsupported judgments about certain groups of people that are formed outside of an individual’s conscious awareness. Everyone has unconscious biases and they are often the result of the human tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing. However, some people benefit and others are penalized when anyone’s unconscious biases are acted on.
While unconscious bias and implicit bias are often used interchangeably, they do have slightly different definitions. Unconscious bias suggests a bias that we are unaware of and which happens outside of our control as the result of our brain making quick judgments or categorizations. Meanwhile, implicit bias suggests that a bias that may not be explicit, but that we are aware of and are responsible for.
Unconscious bias training programs have three purposes: to expose people to their unconscious biases, to help them adjust their automatic patterns of thinking and to eliminate discriminatory behaviors that stem from these patterns. Organizations implement unconscious bias trainings to ensure no discriminatory behaviors exist within their recruiting, hiring and management processes. The implementation of unconscious bias training is also a great way to signal the importance of inclusive behaviors and an inclusive culture within your organization.
Unconscious bias training is the topic of many debates because while it is generally accepted as a worthwhile practice, some believe it is not a very effective way to reduce micro-aggressions and discriminatory behavior on an organizational level. Often, it is not the idea of unconscious bias training itself that draws this criticism. Instead, it is the way many organizations implement training that draws negative attention. Unconscious bias training is immediately effective in that it highlights biases people may have not know about.
However, as many naysayers point out, in order for people to act on this knowledge, the training must exist in a organizational culture that allows for and encourages the discussion and acceptance of these biases, along with the room to change them. This change cannot happen immediately, either. As many critics point out, unconscious bias training must be continual in order to cause real change to habits and understandings of the world. However, following the above tips can help to improve the effectiveness of your unconscious bias trainings.
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