Many organizations are beginning to understand the magnitude and importance of dealing with unconscious bias, which raises questions about where it best fits within a corporate training program.
When handled well, unconscious bias training will help employees challenge their assumptions so they can objectively make decisions that are in the best interest of the company. Handled poorly, it can be perceived as judgmental or controlling, and lead to an overwhelming sense that employees can’t even think without being biased.
The big picture
The topic of unconscious bias is important in itself, but the overall effect it has on your company’s culture is of critical importance. The best approach is to address how unconscious bias relates to specific actions and behaviors rather than from a broad perspective. Creating a positive impact on your culture should be the focus of your training and takes precedent over a single topic. At ELI, we counsel clients to focus on their core company culture and then address unconscious bias after the baseline training has taken place. It serves as a part of the message, but is not the core component.
What to avoid
Unconscious bias training is complex and requires a quality program to be effective. Attendees should leave the training with an understanding of what unconscious bias is and its impact. Most importantly, employees should learn how to mitigate the negative effects of unconscious bias in the workplace. Many times employees understand the challenge but leave the training without any specific actions or takeaways. Training that focuses on unconscious bias should highlight clear and actionable steps that employees can take when they recognize behavior that should be challenged. The best way to manage unconscious bias is to create a workplace where employees are encouraged to speak freely and constructively about a topic, and where they are open to discussion without judgment.
Diversity and inclusion
Diversity and inclusion is an area of corporate training that can significantly benefit from the subject of unconscious bias. In fact, many companies find that it fits best in this arena. Simply opening up the dialogue and encouraging conversations will significantly help cultivate a vibrant and inclusive corporate culture.
Training should focus on helping managers understand the dangers of looking at people from the perspective of whether or not they think someone might be a “good fit.” Quick decisions that don’t take the facts into consideration can degrade your culture. These assumptions can leave talented employees sitting on the sidelines, or could lead them to walk out the door. Your management team needs a simple set of guidelines and a solid plan for addressing unconscious bias in the workplace.
Solving the problem of unconscious bias in the workplace
The first step in managing unconscious bias in the workplace is to ensure employees understand exactly what it is, when it happens, and the ways in which it can impact your business objectives. Employees should be encouraged to discuss these biases, raise issues, listen to each other, and collaborate on solutions. Educating employees during a two-hour session is the start of what should be a continuous effort involving daily conversations that eventually shape your company culture.