Don’t Jump Into Unconscious Bias Training Until You Read This

 Don’t Jump Into Unconscious Bias Training Until You Read This

By Carmen Morris

Unconscious bias training (UBT) has been ‘done to death’ but why do people want it? In recent times, the requests for diversity and inclusion training has seen a renewed vigour. Diversity and inclusion consultants, like myself, have witnessed an increase in the amount of requests for this training, from those seeking to develop race equality in organisations.

I’m not a fan of UBT for several reasons. Let me explain. Over the years, UBT has been jumped on like a gravy train, by organisations, as the go to solution the answer to the ills of organisational inequality. 

Many organisations have jumped on board, as if caught in a moment of FOMO (fear of missing out) as trainers and consultancies eagerly promote their service offerings.

Unconscious bias training is useful, but it’s not the answer. UBT focuses on raising awareness around individual bias and the reasons why it exists. It does little to benefit leadership in terms of changing behaviours and reducing workplace racism, which surely, must be the goal of organisations seeking to engage with inclusion.

With the rush to engage training around diversity, in particular race, following the death of George Floyd, it may be a minefield for many in leadership to understand what kind of support they actually need. How does an organisation that has had little success with racial inclusion know what solutions will support the development of racial parity, rather than reinforce exclusive thinking?

The conversations around diversity and inclusion are often emotive and white fragility is a concept that is an intrinsic part of the racial inclusion debate. However, UBT is not the go to remedy It does not rid your team members of racist and other problematic mindsets. By merely engaging employees around the fact that they may be unconsciously biased in their mindsets and behaviours, does not represent a concrete solution for effectiveness in developing racial equality.

Unconscious Bias Training Is No Silver Bullet

With HR being a conspicuously white profession and the field of psychology being predominantly so, it is easy for leadership (again mainly white) to identify with concepts that serve to engage loosely with the subject of racism, without the need to explore the realities and intersectionality of Black employee experience.

Unconscious bias training does not, and cannot, enable leadership to promote effective change around systemic racism. Certainly, it is void of much of the lived experience that would, necessarily, add value on any experiential basis.

White privilege has the advantage of the ‘benefit of the doubt’ and is exerted throughout the leadership framework of most organisations. As such leadership should, in theory, be largely conscious of the fact the Black people are marginalised. 

white leadership team having unconscious bias training
Leadership teams cannot remove bias through unconscious bias training GETTY

Unconscious bias training does little more than highlight the fact that people have biases and how this purportedly ‘unconscious’ bias, impacts on decisions within the workplace. This is all very interesting but the training fails to instruct leaders on how they may change behaviour in order to manifest racial inclusion. This is where the deep work is needed.

However interesting this type of training may be, it has done little over the past decades to reduce bias and prejudice and support the inclusion of Black people into leadership positions. Nor has it enabled leadership to implement fair recruitment and retention processes that would attract the best Black minds into organisational leadership and management structures.

UBT is a distraction from the deep work that needs to take place. The deep work involves hearing the uncomfortable truths and being challenged, and supported, into making decisions that will enable white leaders to become more inclusive, by design.

Who Says Bias is Unconscious?

Being focused as it is on mindset, while purporting the ‘unconscious’ nature of racist behaviour, unconscious bias training fails to recognise how consciously biased decisions, impact the perpetuation of the systemic nature of racism.

By its very nature, unconscious bias training can let the perpetrator of racism off the hook. After all, can someone really be blamed for something that they do unconsciously? It’s like blaming someone for snoring in their sleep! 

If we are going to fix racism, we must do it by focusing on what people are doing consciously. We must focus on the actions that lead to Black people suffering via individuals, and systems, that perpetrate and propagate systemic racism.

The fact that unconscious bias training can actually justify biased behaviour, and has no sustained impact on behaviour, is still the subject of several reports and topical debates. Surely the focus should be on changing discriminatory behaviours that present in the workplace?

Tackling Issues Head On

The fact that UBT has been the go to solution for so long, bearing in mind the resultant failure to deliver on inclusion, should serve as an indication of its effectiveness. The numerous reports around UBT as an effective learning tool, are both useful and instructive.

Unconscious bias training can be interesting and may well be ‘easier’ for leadership to digest due to its ‘non-problematic’ nature, but let’s face it, society and workplaces do have a problem.

It is essential that leadership actively, and authentically commits to the development of racial equality regardless of how difficult the conversations may be. Meaningful action is always supplemented by an exploration of, and engagement in, challenging debates. The focus on conscious bias is relevant here, and an area where few seem to want to really engage.

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Originally posted on Forbes

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