Learning & Development

Unconscious Bias Training Helps Fuel Diversity Efforts at Industrial Gas Company

Despite a strategy to promote an inclusive culture in your organization, unconscious bias could be undermining your efforts. That is why some companies proactively address unconscious bias through training.

Teamwork of businesspeople at work to build a business system

Take Praxair, Inc.. This global industrial gas company worked with a third-party training vendor in Fall 2014 to create content for “Unconscious Bias to Conscious Inclusion”, a half-day training program offered to all Praxair leaders, says Vanessa Abrahams-John, chief diversity office for Praxair. “We started offering the training to help our managers understand how unconscious bias can derail our diversity talent management efforts and their decision-making processes. Further, the training was thought to help develop impactful and sustainable solutions for diverse talent management—specifically, in recruitment, development, and, ultimately, retention.”

Between 50 and 60 managers usually participate in each training session. Participants complete online prework, which defines unconscious bias, and then attend classroom-style training that incorporates “lecture, experiential, and peer-interactive modules,” Abrahams-John explains.

The training features discussion of the terms “diversity,” “inclusion,” “engagement,” “bias,” and “unconscious bias.” It also covers “developing an inclusion message unique to Praxair, engaging with other participants to understand that diversity can exist on many different dimensions, participating in roleplaying exercises to understand how the failure to be inclusive can impact performance, sharing experiences about how a diverse and inclusive workforce has benefited Praxair, [and] creating an action plan incorporating the new learnings,” she says.

By offering unconscious bias training, Praxair strives “to enhance managerial capabilities” by helping managers understand “how unconscious bias can impact performance and decision making, how inclusive leadership can positively impact each employee’s engagement and performance, and how to develop strategies to proactively address the issue,” she says.

Abrahams-John says the company has been successful in reaching those goals. “We attribute our success in the training to various factors: (1) Tone from the top—leaders have expressed and encouraged the importance and value of the training. Leaders have also attended the training with their direct reports; (2) Utilizing a combination of online, classroom, peer learning, and experiential modules has created engagement and collaboration amongst peers; (3) Creating individual action plans for future reference; and (4) Conducting post-training surveys to gauge feedback in order to improve training.”

“After each training, we conduct an anonymous survey to assess the value and impact of the training,” she explains. “On each question, over 90 percent of participants have responded positively and found that the training has impacted their view of diversity in talent management.”

Praxair plans to have every manager complete Unconscious Bias to Conscious Inclusion by the end of 2018 and begin refresher training in 2019.

Abrahams-John maintains it is important to provide training on unconscious bias, noting, “All employers who believe in the business case for leveraging diverse ideas, perspectives, and solutions should proactively equip their managers with the tools necessary to succeed.”

What can you do to help make sure this type of training is successful in your organization? Abrahams-John offers a few suggestions. “My advice would be to ensure that all leaders attend the training with their direct reports to set the ‘tone from the top.’ In addition, I would ensure that the training is delivered in a positive rather than punitive manner. Finally, I would ensure there is some follow up and action planning for post-training.”

Unconscious bias training is one of numerous initiatives that helped Praxair earn a spot on the DiversityInc 2017 list of Noteworthy Companies for diversity.