Repositioning Unconscious Bias

12th November 2013

As I reflect on the number of enquiries received at Marshall ACM for programmes to deliver unconscious bias training and support, I can see that people have a basic desire to be fair to others. Of course, there are also those people who consider unconscious bias to be a cop out and that bias is bias and, as managers and employees, we should be more confrontational in an attempt to reduce and remove its impact from the workplace.

Yet whether conscious or unconscious, I’m firmly in the camp that says bias is not something that should be tolerated. And with this in mind, I appreciate that it can be tricky for HR and training managers to position training and development programmes to help employees recognise and address bias.

Too often employees can feel told off’ and challenged by such programmes and it’s possible to create an atmosphere of alienation among those who are signed up for courses. Here the company is considered to be completing a box ticking exercise that seeks to absolve them of any responsibility should a member of the workforce display biased behaviour.

Perhaps, then, we need to try to re-define its concept?

It’s easy to position training as a process to help avoid employee litigation and ensure compliance. Yet if this is the rationale behind it, it’s little surprise that employees don’t feel engaged and on board with the underlying objectives of a programme. Maybe then we need to reposition our own thinking about training and put employees back at the centre of things. So, in the case of unconscious bias training, what’s in it for the employee?

Well, for starters, if it’s good for the business which you’ve already said it is then a profitable, high performing and focused organisation is good for the employee. Not only does this let you hire the best talent thereby creating a good working culture and environment but you can also help to evolve and sustain a meritocratic culture that contributes to a genuine reputation for being a good place to work and somewhere that employees want to stay. And surely that benefits everyone.

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