- Dr. Janice Gassam Asare is an author and founder of BWG Business Solutions, LLC, a consultancy that helps organizations be more inclusive and sparks important dialogue about workplace equity.
- She says that although diversity and inclusion trainings are popular in large corporations, evidence shows that they are not highly effective at promoting workplace equity.
- Part of the problem may be that companies depend too heavily on these trainings without addressing other structural and systemic issues at play.
- In order to maximize the impact of unconscious bias training, it’s important to reassess other company practices, hold upper management accountable for enacting change, and include job- or industry-specific scenarios in the trainings.
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When companies get themselves into trouble, they often turn to their beloved “unconscious bias training.”
We saw this with Starbucks, Sephora, and Papa John’s following very public missteps. Unconscious bias trainings seem to be the go-to for any diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) problems that companies are facing.
But despite their popularity, there is growing evidence that the trainings (also called implicit bias training) are ineffective. In my experience, they’ve resulted in very little long-term change.
Part of the problem may be because employees are skeptical of these trainings to begin with. Companies also have to worry about the validity and effectiveness of bias training. In the fall of 2019, Ernst & Young found itself embroiled in controversy over bias training they implemented that reportedly projected negative stereotypes about women.
Part of the problem could be that companies treat these trainings as the sole ingredient in the corporate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) recipe. Another issue is that there is often a lack of focus placed on structural and systemic issues which may hamper the success of these training sessions.
So what can companies do to address these issues and ensure that unconscious bias training truly leads to long-term changes in the organization?
1. Examine company practices
A lack of objectivity in corporate practices can create cracks in your company’s structure. Go through the different practices your organization has adopted and evaluate whether objective criteria are utilized. Rubrics or scorecards should be used when assessing job prospects, as well as during a performance evaluation. Also examine the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for different roles. Adjust degree and certification requirements. In some cases, certain criteria may unintentionally filter out different populations of job candidates. Determine and reevaluate degree requirements and consider hiring based on specific job-related abilities, rather than hiring solely based on degrees and certifications.
2. Manager accountability is needed
Toxicity as well as inequities and imbalances within the corporate structure all trickle down from upper management. Assess how organizational leaders are being evaluated, and ensure there are accountability measures set up. DEI is everyone’s responsibility and not just the job of the chief diversity officer — this is important to emphasize. Managers should be involved with implementing unconscious bias trainings, whether they are the ones sourcing outside vendors, or they are giving trainers input regarding what is needed to increase training effectiveness. Linking manager performance evaluations to DEI program effectiveness will make the trainings more successful, and may also create more manager accountability.
3. Include relevant scenarios in unconscious bias training
If you do decide to implement unconscious bias training into the workplace, you want to include several job-relevant scenarios to increase the training effectiveness. According to one study, including job-relevant scenarios into unconscious bias trainings allowed employees to make concrete commitments to activities and behaviors in the workplace. Rather than focusing solely on concepts and terminology (which is important for a baseline understanding) efforts should be put into creating trainings that encompass workplace practices where bias is more likely to creep in. Employees should be provided with actionable steps to prevent bias from impacting decision-making processes. This is likely to increase employee commitment to goals and objectives set forth in the unconscious bias training, thus increasing the overall effectiveness of the training.
Overall, unconscious bias training has the potential to transform workplaces and impact corporate DEI efforts. Including job-related scenarios in the training session will increase training effectiveness. One important factor to consider: More often than not, unconscious bias training fails to address the structural and systemic issues that are plaguing an organization. Unconscious bias training should be accompanied by policy and practice change.
It’s also important to hold managers accountable for culture change. Manager buy-in will solidify the employee committee to culture change.