Learning & Development, Talent

What Is Unconscious Bias Training?

Earlier this year in April, two black men were arrested in a Starbucks in Pennsylvania. A Starbucks employee had called the police, claiming that the two men were loitering without paying for anything, and the two men stated that they were waiting for someone else to arrive.


DrAfter123 / DigitalVision Vectors / Getty Images

Since the incident, the Starbucks executive leadership team has publicly apologized and vowed to implement unconscious bias training across their stores. In an interview with NPR, Starbucks COO Rosalind Brewer stated, “… unconscious bias training is critical and top of our list, one of the things that we want to make sure happens in this situation.”
But … what exactly is “unconscious bias training”?
According to Neal Goodman, PhD,:

“Unconscious bias is the result of messages (from a wide array of sources) introduced into our subconscious from an early age. Many of these prejudices that are deeply held in our unconscious can unconsciously influence how we act toward one another in our organizations.” (Source)

And unconscious bias training programs are designed to expose people to their unconscious biases, providing tools and techniques to adjust automatic patterns of thinking and ultimately eliminate discriminatory behaviors.

Why Do We Need Unconscious Bias Training?

We need unconscious bias training in the workplace so that talented and qualified individuals can be hired and promoted and so that people are not unknowingly or unjustly discriminated against or discriminating others. We also need it so that we’re treating our clients and business partners fairly and respectfully in the workplace.

How to Implement Unconscious Bias Training

According to an article published in Harvard Business Review, L&D professionals should do three main things to make unconscious bias training better:

  1. Strike a careful balance between limiting defensiveness about unconscious bias while communicating the importance of managing bias.
  2. Structure unconscious bias training content around real-life workplace situations.
  3. Make the unconscious bias training action-oriented.

It’s also important to be realistic about expectations while also facilitating training sessions in person and offering supplemental reading materials and resources. If you’re just getting started with designing your unconscious bias training program, check out some of the resources and training materials offered by Project Implicit.

Potential Problems with Unconscious Bias Training

While unconscious bias training is a step in the right direction, some critics claim that it also has the power to perpetuate biases without meaning to because it solves for the “problem of diversity” instead of the “problem of inclusion.” So, as you consider implementing unconscious bias training, you might want to focus on a “we” strategy and not an “us versus them” strategy and mind-set. (Source)
Now that you know more about what unconscious bias training is, you can start to think of how your organization can best implement it in the near future.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *