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Dealing With Bias In Employee Training


A lot of hubbub has been made about the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of training employees and managers to deal with unconscious biases in the workforce. There’s good reason for the criticism - studies have found training to be either ineffective or to be followed by worse performance numbers in terms of biases, and many have openly suggested that the training is a waste of time as a diversity initiative.

Discussion introducing the existence of stereotypes may even worsen a staff’s belief in those stereotypes rather than improve them, as in many cases the presentations can introduce new stereotypes or do more to bring stereotypes to the forefront than they do tackling and criticizing the stereotypes.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the concept of diversity training is inherently flawed or ineffective, and can instead indicate that programs are not being adequately supported or reinforced. According to Harvard Business Review, studies found that 96 percent of participants in diversity training left intending to take steps to improve their own unconscious biases, suggesting that individual training sessions can motivate employees to try harder, but need to be reinforced with concrete steps.

Diversity training needs continuous reinforcement

One way to make diversity training take serious hold on your employees is to ensure the topic is not regulated to a single day or session that is never revisited, or is only revisited once every few years or so. To make your training effective, companies need to transfer the information being presented to employees into company policy.

For example, a standard diversity training session will include discussing how names, neighborhood addresses, or schools can impact the way a candidate is treated for a position or job opportunity; a company seeking to reinforce the idea that such biases could negatively impact their workforce should take steps to circumvent this bias, such as by changing the hiring process to remove identifying information that would reveal the candidate’s sex, race, religion or any other factor that might encourage unconscious biases.

In addition, regular mentoring, regular training sessions and impactful steps to increase company diversity can effectively reinforce diversity training education by showing that the company can value and put into practice legitimate suggestions. Such steps will encourage employees to become comfortable with the concept of acknowledging and addressing diversity issues rather than feeling uncomfortable bringing them up in day-to-day situations.

Unconscious bias should be discussed without accusation

Diversity training education sessions have an explicit goal of improving a staff’s ability to accept diversity, be inclusive and acquaint themselves with the idea that they can take a role in improving it themselves. However, some employees may be prone to feeling defensive when topics such as racism and sexism come up, becoming more interested in asserting that they are not racist or that the information is incorrect rather than learning how to address racism.

Training that wants to leave an impact should carefully go over the nature of unconscious bias, including emphasizing the fact that unconscious bias permeates every decision of our lives, everyone has ingrained unconscious biases, developing them is natural and addressing them is not publicly identifying yourself as a bigot. For instance, some people have a bias against people with prostate cancer, but by putting employees at ease with the idea that the presentation is not accusing them of being bad people, they become more willing to engage with the ideas being presented and discuss their role in diversity and acceptance.

Education should center around concrete examples

Discussions about how to address and improve diversity should focus on concrete examples of what employees, managers and leadership at every level can do as individuals in order to improve diversity within the company. Identify specific areas where unconscious bias can come into play. Harvard Business Review discusses grouping diversity training into recruiting and hiring, team dynamics and career development, which reflect situations in which employees can understand how to translate their education into action.

Develop and identify specific tasks and behaviors employees can commit to in order to improve diversity, and encourage management to follow up on these tasks to see how they’re being implemented and followed. Consider implementing a method or strategy that employees can follow to address diversity, such as making note of when one employee is interrupted in a conversation, or seeking to ensure correct employees get credit for actions.

Employee training doesn’t have to be ineffective. By taking steps to ensure your training focuses on concrete ways your employees can change their behaviors and address diversity, you can reinforce the legitimacy of using diversity training techniques in day-to-day business and improve the overall status of your company.

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