You’re trying to decide whether to invest in unconscious bias training for your workplace and
you want to be sure it’s actually going to have an impact. The first question to ask is if this type
of training is even effective to begin with.

The quick answer – it depends.

Just like any other kind of workplace training, if unconscious bias training is poorly designed it’s simply not effective.

However, if it is well done and includes several key elements it can be a
great addition to your diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging toolkit.

If it makes you feel any better, there’s a whole lot of difference between the good and the bad,
the effective and ineffective. And it’s fairly easy to assess going in whether the training is going
to have a real impact or not once you know what to look for.

So, what should you look for in effective workplace unconscious bias training for employees?
These four things:

  1.  The training creates the understanding that ALL brains are biased. Unconscious bias is not something that some people have, and others do not.
    Effective bias training demonstrates this by delving into the neuroscience of bias and
    includes exercises that allow people to experience and understand some of their own
    implicit biases.
  2.  The training focuses on DOING more than KNOWING. Full stop. There is real danger in stopping at teaching about unconscious bias. In fact, it’s been shown that people who have been educated about unconscious bias but not how to interrupt it actually exhibit more biased behaviors down the road.
    • Beware training that talks a lot about the neuroscience of unconscious bias and stops there. Effective workplace unconscious bias training for employees should be loaded with actionable, commonly shared bias interrupters that can be applied to daily work. For example, a set of behaviors for running an inclusive meeting.
  3. The training creates a COMMON LANGUAGE & set of inclusion TOOLS. It’s powerful when people can easily call out behaviors, negative and positive, because their team understands what they’re talking about without having to dive into details. Good unconscious bias training does this – it provides words and phrases that are immediately recognized and understood.
    • Same goes for common tools that impact behavior. For example, if everyone is working off the same toolkit on how to get to an inclusive decision, the team can get there much faster than if the team lead was having to stop and explain each step in that process. With a common set of tools, the team and individuals knows why choices are being made and how they impact inclusion and belonging.
  4. The training is focused on interrupting unconscious bias at the SYSTEMS and the INDIVIDUAL level. Beware, beware, beware! Almost all workplace unconscious bias training for employees is designed to focus on and change H.R. systems.
    • There’s a lot of focus for example, on rooting out implicit bias in hiring. That is critically important and necessary… and won’t lead to inclusion.
    • Look for a program that also focuses on how each individual is impacted by unconscious bias, and how they can interrupt that bias to behave in inclusive ways.

One last tip. Don’t make workplace unconscious bias training for employees mandatory.
Research has shown that this will backfire. That’s not too surprising, given that people generally hate being told what to do. Expect resistance if you take this approach.

Instead, focus on getting to a ‘tipping point’ of 27% participation and consistent action. When you can get that many employees behaving in an inclusive way, it can create culture change. Inclusion becomes ‘how we behave around here.’