Does Unconscious Bias Training Work?

22nd July 2019


But not completely.

Well, it depends.

Okay, let’s backtrack a little.

Yes, unconscious bias training does work.

It’s an effective way to deliver information.

You can teach colleagues about the existence of unconscious bias, and open their eyes to the pressures that this invisible force exerts on all aspects of life and work.

But, if the ‘work’ part of the question: “does unconscious bias training work”, means: “is it effective?”, then the answer is that it does work – to a point.

You see, it really depends on what you expect unconscious bias training to achieve.

What is the unconscious bias problem you want to solve?

To really address our titular question, we have to define what ‘work’ means.

Effective unconscious bias training could mean (among other things):

  1. Delivering knowledge to employees
  2. Raising awareness of our biases
  3. Reducing the impact of unconscious bias at work
  4. Improving diversity through fairer recruitment

Unconscious bias training can support all of these objectives.

Indeed, it is impossible to achieve any of these goals without providing unconscious bias training. The first step to addressing a problem is to explore the facts and develop knowledge.

However, the key limitation of unconscious bias training is that it is usually a one-off training programme that is trying to resist a powerful, permanent, invisible force.

It is unlikely that unconscious bias training alone will overcome our intrinsic biases.

Bring your unconscious bias training to life

Resisting unconscious bias, and trying to overcome its effects, is a bit like resisting gravity.

You can resist gravity for as long as you can resist gravity.

When you stop trying, the force returns you to Earth.

Unconscious bias is very similar. Without conscious effort and deliberate decisions, our unconscious biases continue to govern our actions in unseen ways.

Even if we are aware of the issue, the problem soon fades into the background, and is overtaken by the need to get on with our jobs. Instead of thinking about unconscious bias, we’re trying to assemble a team, meet a deadline, or recruit a new colleague.

The key to reducing the effects of unconscious bias is to weave nudges, reminders and interruptions into every aspect of your business. This might mean including messages in your newsletters, structuring performance processes differently, or engineering your approach to recruitment so that all candidates get a fair shot at the job.

Unconscious bias training is a useful starting point

Yes, unconscious bias training works, but the nature of unconscious bias means that a single training program is unlikely to be sufficient to mitigate these forces.

Without additional work to shift the organisational culture, address bias in processes, and regularly remind colleagues of the impact, cost and risk caused by unconscious bias, the lessons learned during training will not translate into organisational change.

Unconscious bias training from Marshall E-Learning

Does your team need help addressing unconscious bias?

We offer a suite of e-learning packages, including an off-the-shelf course on unconscious bias.

Need something more relevant to your organisation?

Our team can customise the course to suit your organisational goals, learner needs and desired learning outcomes.

Contact Marshall E-Learning now

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