We’ve all heard stories of workplace bias, both in the news and in our personal lives. When we hear a story about bias or discrimination, we often have the same reaction: “I would never do that. I am not biased toward anyone.”
The first half of that reaction may be true, especially in the case of more reprehensible examples of bias. But the second statement is false. Every human being – including every employee at your company – has biases. When business decisions are influenced by unconscious bias, it can have a major impact on the diversity and culture of your company.
The term “implicit bias” refers to the feelings and attitudes we have toward certain people or groups that we are not conscious of. These feelings are deeply ingrained, shaping the way we view the world and the people we encounter. While implicit bias is unintentional and not a result of malicious intent, it can lead us to judge or stereotype people without even realizing it. When implicit bias goes unchecked, it can influence every aspect of an organization, from hiring and promotions to small day-to-day interactions.
If everyone enters the workforce with biases, how can HR professionals prevent discrimination? Implicit bias training is intended to help employees understand and minimize the role of unconscious bias within their organization. Through education and discussion, this training strategy teaches employees how to recognize and manage their biases. Successful implicit bias training contributes to improved diversity and fairer treatment of employees, job candidates and business partners.
For the most part, organizations seek out implicit bias training with nothing but good intentions. But, implicit bias training is notoriously challenging, because it can challenge lifelong beliefs and forces people to investigate and own up to their own biases. As a result, poorly planned implicit bias training can appear accusatory or out of touch. Don’t let your implicit bias training do more harm than good. Use the following tips for a more effective implicit bias training program.
1. Select the Right Facilitator to Lead Your Training
The success of your bias training depends largely on the person facilitating the training. Most importantly, the facilitator must be highly qualified and experienced in a variety of workplace diversity issues. They must be skilled in communicating not only the psychology behind implicit bias but also how it relates to common workplace scenarios. It’s also important to choose someone who aligns with your overall company culture. For example, if you work in a fun, relaxed atmosphere, learners may not respond well to a monotone, by-the-book trainer.
2. Structure Your Training Over an Extended Period of Time
We’ve spent our entire lives operating under and developing different biases without realizing it. Learners cannot understand and overcome such deeply ingrained psychological constructs over the course of a single training session. Structure your implicit bias training into short, recurring sessions rather than offering a one-and-done event. Multiple training sessions facilitate the time and repetition required to enact meaningful change.
3. Prioritize Awareness
Good implicit bias training offers actionable tips to help learners manage their biases, but it shouldn’t start there. Instead, begin with the “what” and the “why”: What are implicit biases, and why is it important to understand implicit bias?” Start by explaining what implicit bias is and where it comes from. Biases stem from a combination of factors that are unique to each individual: our experiences, culture, friend groups, childhood, memories and so on. Describe how each of these factors contributes to unconscious biases, and learners will begin to consider their own lives and identify causes for their own biases.
The “why” is equally important. Be direct and honest about the negative impacts of implicit bias in the workplace and the world in general. Offer specific examples that show the effects of implicit bias, both on a broad scale and on an individual, human level. Don’t just focus on the negativity surrounding implicit bias; also stress how beneficial it is to have a diverse and inclusive workforce. Once learners are emotionally invested in addressing the problem, they’ll be more committed to your training program.
4. Provide Actions to Manage Implicit Bias
Once your training has helped employees recognize their biases, then what? What can they do to combat biases they’re not intentionally displaying? If you can’t answer that question, your implicit bias training is lacking in actionable insight.
Make sure to use detailed, applicable examples as you discuss the steps your employees can take after training. Present several hypothetical scenarios where inherent bias affects an employee’s actions or decision-making. These situations may relate to a hiring decision, a routine meeting or even a casual lunchtime interaction. In each scenario, explain what the hypothetical employee could have done to minimize the effects of their bias. Learners will relate to these examples without feeling like they’re being criticized.
5. Allow for Flexible Scheduling
The mention of implicit bias training is sure to frustrate a number of your employees – not because they’re insensitive people but because bias training cuts into the time they have to spend on their work. But implicit bias training won’t be effective if each session is full of disgruntled employees wanting to return to their desks.
Give your employees more options by repeating each training session at several different times. Smaller groups allow for more personal and interactive sessions, and you’ll accommodate your employees by allowing them to attend the sessions that fit into their schedules.
6. Prioritize Interaction Over Lecture
Hour-long speeches and endless slideshows will doom your implicit bias training program. Instead, create an interactive environment where the learners are as vocal as the facilitator. Start a dialogue, and encourage employees to ask questions, share their experiences and learn from each other. Experiment with interactive exercises such as role-playing, simulations and group problem-solving. Implicit bias may be a serious topic, but the training can still be enjoyable and engaging. Above all else, it should be a place where people feel safe to voice their own perspectives.
7. Outline Next Steps
Implicit bias isn’t something that can be “cured” or “removed.” It’s a problem we must explore and work to understand our whole lives. As your training sessions conclude, outline some goals learners can work toward – not tomorrow, or this month, but every day moving forward in and outside of the workplace. Encourage them to keep the conversation going by offering optional follow-up sessions and additional content and resources they can spend time with as they continue on their own personal journeys to conquer implicit bias.
There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy for effective implicit bias training. A program that works wonders for one company might fall flat at a different organization, and vice versa. The most important ingredient is an environment where learners feel engaged, understood and safe. Collect feedback after each session, and continue to tweak your training over time. With the right approach, your implicit bias training will contribute to a more diverse, accepting and healthy employer brand and workplace culture.