Government departments have been ordered to scrap unconscious bias training for civil servants after a study found no evidence of its effectiveness.
Civil service managers have been required to undertake mandatory unconscious bias training courses since 2015 in an attempt to level the playing field, tackle implicit and explicit biases, and build more inclusive workplaces.
Unconscious bias training
However, cabinet secretary Julia Lopez said in a statement today that such training would be phased out by government departments, and public sector organisations would be encouraged to do the same.
This was because there is a “strong body of evidence” that such training has “no sustained impact on behaviour and may even be counter-productive”.
She noted that broader diversity training as a “stand alone exercise” could also undermine efforts to improve inclusion if it appeared to be a “tick box exercise”.
“The civil service will therefore integrate principles for inclusion and diversity into mainstream core training and leadership modules in a manner which facilitates positive behaviour change. This new strategy will be published in the new year, and will reassert our commitment to being an inclusive employer with a stronger focus on engaging measurable action,” Lopez said.
“The government expects other parts of the public sector, including local government, the police, and the NHS, to review their approaches in light of the evidence and the developments in the civil service. We will continue to build the evidence on what works to make our workplaces fairer, and unite and level up across our country, with the reformed Equality Hub playing a key role.”
A report published by the Behavioural Insights Team, which was commissioned by the Government Equalities Office to analyse the effectiveness of unconscious bias training, found that “there is currently no evidence that this training changes behaviour in the long term or improves workplace equality in terms of representation of women, ethnic minorities or other minority groups” and often had unintended negative consequences.
A systematic review of unconscious bias training, which examined 492 studies involving more than 87,000 participants, found changes to unconscious bias measures were not associated with changes in behaviour.
Lopez’s statement said: “Further evidence also suggests that unconscious bias training may even have detrimental effects. The Equality and Human Rights Commission found that evidence for its ability effectively to change behaviour is limited and ‘there is potential for back-firing effects when UBT participants are exposed to information that suggests stereotypes and biases are unchangeable’.
“Instructions to suppress stereotypes may not only activate and reinforce unhelpful stereotypes, they may provoke negative reactions and actually make people exacerbate their biases.”
She added that the civil service was “committed to being an open and inclusive employer” and that it was “open to all, with individuals from a variety of backgrounds adding breadth and depth to our understanding of contemporary British society, providing greater challenge to received wisdom and fresh perspectives to the challenges we face as a nation”.