Don't Do Unconscious Bias Training
by Dr. Kristen Liesch
Often considered “best practice,” unconscious bias training is a waste of time and money
So you understand the benefits of a diverse workforce.
The board of directors likes the bottom-line boost diversity brings.
You've got buy-in from the rest of the management team.
So now what?
You come up with a "Diversity Strategy" that includes targeting everything from job advertisements to promotion policies, but you don't know how exactly to make the change.
So you hire a Diversity & Inclusion consultant to conduct unconscious bias training.
That's your first mistake.
“Diversity training doesn’t work.”
— DR FRANK DOBBIN
If you want your employees and leaders to learn more about discrimination, biases, and stereotyping, run unconscious bias training.
But, if you want your organization to become more diverse, and be positioned to leverage that diversity, do much more than unconscious bias training.
WHY UNCONSCIOUS BIAS TRAINING DOESN'T WORK
UNCONSCIOUS BIAS TRAINING REQUIRES COGNITIVE COMPLIANCE TO ACHIEVE RESULTS
Unconscious bias training relies on individuals to become aware of their biases and mitigate them accordingly.
Research shows that de-biasing individuals can be effective only when it includes the following conditions:
awareness of the possibility of bias
understanding of the direction of the bias
immediate feedback when falling prey to the bias
a training program with regular feedback, analysis, and coaching
Essentially, a hiring manager (for example) would need to have their own diversity coach to accompany them through their day--every day--to ensure they successfully mitigate their biases. This is not only impractical, it is representative of the significant cost of trying to change minds and behaviour.
There is a gap between
intent and action,
understanding and behaviour.
Do you know why it’s important to eat a healthy diet? Do you have a general understanding of what a healthy diet looks like? Do you eat a healthy diet?
Expecting your workforce/hiring manager/[insert role here] to be able to overcome their biases because unconscious bias training has made them aware of them is akin to expecting them to eat a healthy diet because they know what that looks like and why they should. We all know that bridging that gap is tricky.
UNCONSCIOUS BIAS TRAINING MAKES STEREOTYPES MORE SALIENT
Studies indicate that, not only does attempting to suppress bias not work, it can make stereotypes seem more significant and result in an increase in biased decision-making.
UNCONSCIOUS BIAS TRAINING CAN JUSTIFY BIASED BEHAVIOUR
It turns out that when individuals are asked to assess their thoughts and behaviours for evidence of bias, this introspection "reassures people that they have been correct all along and that their conclusions are based on sound reasoning."
UNCONSCIOUS BIAS TRAINING PROMOTES "MORAL LICENSING"
"Moral licensing" happens when a hiring manager who has undergone unconscious bias training (subconsciously) discriminates against a job applicant because they have undergone unconscious bias training and therefore believe (subconsciously) that they are no longer susceptible to their biases.
If you run an unconscious bias training program, certain under-represented groups are less likely to become managers.
UNCONSCIOUS BIAS TRAINING DOESN'T ACCOUNT FOR THE NEGATIVE EFFECTS OF DIVERSITY
While a diverse workforce is proven to improve a number of organizational outcomes from innovation to productivity, if achieved, it can also introduce new challenges, including:
DECREASED JOB SATISFACTION
LOWER TEAM COHESION
LOWERED LIKEABILITY OF CO-WORKERS
INCREASED EMOTIONAL CONFLICT
Unconscious bias training programs rarely include mechanisms to mitigate these effects, and sometimes neglect to mention them at all.
“The notion of a ‘diversity officer’ in an organization could be analogous to creating a ‘conflict officer’ or a ‘lower growth officer.’”
— STEPHEN FROST, INCLUSIVE TALENT MANAGEMENT