Unconscious bias training is a huge growing market.
It probably doesn’t work.
There is evidence that it makes matters worse.
The Prejudice Lab at the University of Wisconsin has developed over 30 years a new approach: from seeking to eliminate unconscious bias to changing conscious behaviour.
Learning from watching poor results even as the unconscious bias training machinery became mandatory over more and more businesses, this team studied what really seems to happen.
An old adage: ‘what you concentrate on grows’. This may well be happening in unconscious bias training.
It looks as if the following dynamics may be in play.
Itemising and describing ‘minorities’ may strengthen the very sense of ‘otherness’ that underpins so much prejudice.
Strong bias – unconscious or not – often accompanies certain other characteristics. The key one? Not appreciating being told what to think or do. So training that feels the slightest bit like ‘lecturing’ may entrench bias.
Itemising and describing other peoples’ biases may, oddly, increase one’s own. It acts as a sort of permission, or normalisation.
As seen with some virtue signalling activities such as conspicuous charity donation, the sense of ‘I’ve done that now’ can reduce subsequent real positive action.
The current advice is simple and action orientated.
Move from the unconscious to the conscious. Model visible behaviours and actions.
Acknowledge – rather than deny or smooth over – differences.
Create, encourage, build and reward the behaviour you want to see. Create a culture that everyone wants to be, and can be, part of rather than talking about it. Do whatever it takes to make everyone feel part of the same team.
Karl Lagerfeld’s death was announced this week.
One of this intelligent man’s mantras was ‘embrace the present and invent the future’.
What a great brief for re-thinking unconscious bias in our workplaces.