No one likes to think they are biased, and the mere mention of the words ‘unconscious bias training’ can get people’s hackles up. To help us bust some myths about the process and what it involves, coach and trainer Peta Bayman from Facilitating Results pulls back the curtain to reveal some lessons from her unconscious bias training sessions – and whether or not they stick.
Q: What are the biggest challenges when introducing unconscious bias training?
Quite often managers say they make split-second decisions about someone, and they can be quite proud of their ‘instincts’. I would conjecture this is simply unconscious bias at play. The very nature of ‘unconscious’ is what makes this a difficult topic to train against, because if we aren’t aware of it, how can we do anything about it? When I host an unconscious bias training session, another big challenge I come up against is that people feel guilty or wrong for admitting they have bias; they think they are going to get a lesson in political correctness. My job is to make people see that bias isn’t inherently wrong; it’s just the lens through which we see the world.
Q: What are the benefits of unconscious bias training?
Looking at the need for diversity and inclusion in organisations is beneficial from a financial, ethical and legal perspective. I suggest it goes even further: confronting unconscious bias is a key aspect of the leadership mindset. Faced with our volatile, complex and ambiguous business environment, doing what we have always done will not cut it. We need out leaders to be flexible and nimble. If we are not getting the performance we want, then we need to look at the habits that contribute to that performance. Examining our unconscious biases is a useful way to begin asking different questions to make better, less arbitrary decisions that have a crucial impact on our organisations and the world.
Q: How do you conduct an unconscious bias training session?
I usually start with asking participants to look at a series of photos of people or optical illusions. This helps them realise that the brain is the problem, not the eyes – we are hardwired for bias. Participants also take an online test (available through an AHRI training toolkit) to see how unconscious biases influence their decision-making. If we examine our decisions, we very quickly realise that most of what we do is not logical or evidence based. I ask participants to keep asking ‘why’: Why do I believe certain things? Why do I prefer certain things? Eventually, you can get them to the core of why they think the way they do. From there, it’s easier to see why their business might have an issue with gender diversity, age diversity and so on.
Q: Understanding why bias occurs is one thing. What do you do to actually affect change?
Once we have covered how bias subtly influences our work decisions, we discuss ways to combat bias. The biggest thing is to get people past feeling guilty about being biased. It’s not about being perfect; it’s about becoming aware of the biases and prejudices we have and creating processes to counteract them.
I ask participants to discuss the challenges within their specific business and ways bias plays a role in that context. Participants then swap ideas and discuss the impact of bias within organisations, including any legal components. We look at practical strategies for counteracting bias as well. This includes things like implementing neutral candidate selection criteria or getting others to review our choices. Generally, the earlier you can catch bias the better.
AHRI’s Managing Unconscious Bias at Work half-day course and/or training kit helps workplaces increase awareness about how bias affects our lives and what we can do about it. To learn more and enquire about unconscious bias training in your office, click here.