The effectiveness of unconscious bias training is often questioned, but, if done in the right way, it can help to raise awareness of prejudices and encourage staff to begin addressing them, writes David Marsden Pearson.
The debate rages on around unconscious bias training and how well it works – but the fact remains that bias (whether conscious or unconscious) is one of the biggest problems facing organisations wanting to become both diverse and inclusive.
It can be difficult for HR teams to know where to start when it comes to tackling this issue. This year has seen unconscious bias hit the headlines numerous times, running the risk of the phrase becoming a diversity buzzword and losing some of its meaning. But it should be a priority for HR as they plan for 2022.
This is a particularly pertinent issue as the Covid pandemic has shaken up recruitment processes – many sectors are currently experiencing the so-called ‘great resignation’, as employees reconsider their options and perhaps consider a new career altogether.
This presents a problem for diversity as many businesses may feel pressure to hire candidates as quickly as possible to mitigate any drop in productivity. This rush could see D&I fall by the wayside.
It is for this reason that tackling unconscious bias should form an integral part of D&I plans as we move into 2022 and beyond.
A successful example of this can be seen at Coventry City Council. It utilises technology which facilitates anonymous job applications, which has resulted in a 117% increase in black, Asian and minority ethnic candidates. Acknowledgement of unconscious bias and reassurance that applications will be treated equally gave candidates confidence to apply.
What is unconscious bias?
Unconscious bias can take many forms. According to Acas, unconscious bias includes when a person thinks:
- better of someone because they believe they’re alike
- less of someone because that person is different to them, for example, they might be of a different race, religion or age.
Unconscious bias doesn’t just cover protected characteristics (age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation) but a host of other factors including physical appearance (called beauty bias) or even where someone went to school.
Unconscious bias training
According to Changing Faces, a visible difference and disfigurement charity, 36% of people have been discriminated against due to their appearance when applying for jobs. In fact, there are more than a dozen different types of biases recognised by psychologists, all of them hardwired into us as humans.
Recognising what bias is, what it looks like in a workplace, and how it can impact on individuals, is an important first step to improving inclusion and culture as it affects recruitment and career progression. Just because unconscious bias might be difficult to spot and root out, doesn’t mean it can’t have a negative impact on achieving inclusion.
The effectiveness of unconscious bias training has been debated in the press, with the UK government deciding to scrap its own unconscious bias training programme, stating it has “no evidence it changes attitudes”. However, research suggests that it can be effective in raising awareness and reducing, but not eliminating, bias.
Training can make a difference, but must be approached in the right way. A half-day training course, for example, may have little impact in tackling unconscious bias. Dealing with unconscious bias requires behavioural change, and this is difficult. The process has to be integrated, practical, skills-based and practised regularly and consistently.
This is why, at Brook Graham, we’ve recently launched our Conscious Inclusion Hub. Unconscious bias is best addressed using blended learning and giving bite-sized, practical advice to employees about how to implement real D&I change. Including lots of relevant real-world examples in a digestible format is essential here – for example, giving examples of what inclusive interviewing looks like. Action-based training and guidance, with roots in behavioural psychology is vital.
We’re all subject to bias and it can be uncomfortable facing up to that fact, never mind investing steady chunks of time to think about and confront the issue. But this steady “drip, drip” approach can be helpful in building confidence to take little steps to improve inclusivity.