What Good Does Unconscious Bias Training Actually Do?
Unconscious bias training doesn’t work says Liz Truss, Minister for Women and Equalities… And we agree with her. It doesn’t work. Or rather, it doesn’t work as a tokenistic, one-off “initiative” (which reading between the lines, we suspect may be the frame of reference within which she’s working).
We always say that we don’t do unconscious bias training. How could we? You can’t “train” someone not to be biased any more than you can train them to be inclusive. What we do at A New Normal is to provide safe environments in the right context to support genuine culture change. It might sound pedantic, but any interventions we do are workshops – we want to start a conversation between our participants and help them to understand more about a topic. As Benjamin Franklin said: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn”.
We’re definitely working in the “involve me” space – it’s critical to us that everything we do adds value for our clients and creates a lasting change. We couldn’t possibly do that if we were working in the “tell me” space.
So, when we say unconscious bias training doesn’t work, we should probably be saying – there’s very little point in starting a conversation with your people about bias unless:
You actually have an idea of what your vision is for your organisation when it comes to inclusion. In order to make change sustainable, organisations have to know why they are making the change, and why it’s important.
Your leaders are fully behind the vision and the destination. People look up – whichever organisation they work in – and they want to hear why inclusion is important, and they want to see inclusive behaviours being role modelled from above. Whether we like it or not, as leaders of organisations, we give our people implicit permission about how to behave through what they see from us.
You know how a conversation about bias fits in with your overall strategy. What’s the problem you’re trying to fix? What do you need your people to do and how are you going to empower them to do it?
Your people know what’s expected of them – the culture of any organisation may be signposted from the top, but every single person who works in any organisation is the guardian of its culture and will be able to make or break the experience of those around them.
We don’t think you can have a truly inclusive culture in any organisation without these conditions being met. We also know that you can’t make a shift towards a truly inclusive culture without everyone in the organisation understanding what bias means, and how it can be managed in a working environment.
So yes, Ms Truss, as a standalone activity, the “tell me” of “Unconscious Bias Training” definitely doesn’t work. But conversations about bias, where individuals can learn more in a safe and non-judgemental space? Well, those are absolutely critical if you want to make any progress on equality at all.
If you want to see more about why we think bias at work is such an important topic, you might want to check out this blog from our archives… And if you want to have a chat to us about starting the conversation on bias at work, why not get in touch? We’d love to hear from you firstname.lastname@example.org