Demystifying unconscious bias training
Unconscious bias training has become increasingly more widespread. The majority of organisations contacting me want to have unconscious bias training first and foremost. There are different reasons why companies ask for an unconscious bias training:
1) To respond to the recent #blacklivesmatter movement
Organisations need to respond to the #blacklivesmatter movement in a meaningful way that goes beyond just making a new pledge on their website. Many organisations need unconscious training as a first step to responding to #BlackLivesMatter is to have an unconscious bias training.
2) To respond to non-white employees who are demanding more actions
Many organisations have mentioned that some non-white employees are vocal about how they feel and they demand to see more meaningful actions from their employers to address the lack of equal opportunities, a better representation and a meaningful response to #BlackLivesMatter
3) To address a very homogeneous workplace in Tech
Venture Capital firms and startups want to address their own lack of workforce diversity as well as addressing the lack of workforce diversity in the organisations they invest in. Recently, a London-based VC contacted me to get trained on unconscious bias to diversify their workforce which is white male dominated but more importantly to ensure that as VCs, they will invest in startups that are founded by women and people of colour.
4) To mitigate and prevent micro-aggressions and discrimination
Companies have reported cases of verbal discriminations and micro-aggressions between employees and require unconscious bias training to prevent micro-aggressions and discrimination in the workplace.
Unconscious bias training offers many benefits to the business: from attracting and retaining diverse talent by removing implicit bias, to getting a greater diversity of thought opening up to new market opportunities and more revenue streams, to better understanding the customer base and building better products, to increasing revenue and customer retention, to increased employee engagement and productivity, to keeping a competitive edge.
There is also a lot of controversy on whether or not unconscious bias training is effective. In my experience, unconscious bias training is effective when it is done the right way. Here are 6 ways to get unconscious bias training right in your organisation:
1) Get the right content to the right audience with the right context
Unconscious bias training should structure the content around real-life workplace situations versus science and research. The content should be action-oriented and should provide plenty of practical exercises for participants as well as workplace related assignments. Top leadership including the CEO should attend the training to fully understand what it is, buy-into it and commit to be held accountable to proactively fighting unconscious bias at the organisational level. Unconscious bias training must explain why it is important and how it ties to real business outcomes and and to the business mission. Unless it clearly articulates how unconscious bias training ties to a business outcome, it will fail.
2) Evaluate the impact of the training
By measuring employee engagement and belonging before and after the unconscious bias training, the organisation ensures that the impact of the unconscious bias training goes beyond just the week of the training and is measured and evaluated after. Measuring the results of unconscious bias training isn’t helpful unless you utilise the learnings to improve your workplace processes. You should evaluate the participants reaction: ‘How did the participants react or respond to the training?’, the Learning: ‘What did participants learn from the training?’. The behaviour: ‘Did the trainees take what they learned and put it into practice on-the-job?’ and the results: ‘Did the training meet the stakeholders’ expectations? What was the return on these expectations (ROE)?’.
3) Appoint a diversity taskforce sponsored by an executive
Many organisations that have succeeded with diversity and inclusion, including fighting unconscious bias, have created a diversity and inclusion taskforce whose role is to constantly measure and evaluate the progress made in regards to diversity and inclusion (thus unconscious bias) and who will speak up when no progress is made. There must be executive sponsors in this taskforce for it to be successful. you must set-up a process to constantly monitor, adjust and improve your diversity and inclusion practices. Imagine implementing a new program and having the policy in place and just expecting it to work organically. It would be naive to expect this diversity and inclusion initiative without investing more resources to monitor, assess, adjust and improve. This is why I encourage you to appoint a diversity and inclusion taskforce whose mission is to monitor progress, evaluate results and improve the diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Your DEI taskforce must be sponsored by an executive in order to be successful. Having an executive leader in this taskforce will give it the budget, authority and access to resources it needs to make an impact.
You can choose how many people are part of the taskforce and who will be in it and how often they will meet. What’s important here is that you set-up a taskforce that’s sponsored by an executive and you clarify their goals. This diversity and inclusion taskforce goals should be aligned with your new mission statement and with the diversity and inclusion goals that you previously set. I recommend asking your team who is interested in joining and making it a voluntary role rather than a mandatory one. People who volunteer are more likely to feel personally committed to the success of this taskforce, regardless of their role in your startup.
4) Follow-up with goal setting exercise to drive behaviour
In order to translate positive intentions into measurable actions, the organisation must set goals tied to monetary bonuses for the leadership team. These goals will hold leaders accountable and drive behaviour. In my experience 90% of companies will not implement a sustainable, long-term diversity program.
Research shows that while startup founders think diversity is important, 70 percent of startup founders said their company had no program in place to increase employee diversity.
We could speculate about why that is and whether it is because they expect someone else to take ownership. The point is that nothing will happen unless you set goals. Goals drive behaviour. Monetary goals drive behaviour faster. If you are serious about diversity and inclusion, you must set goals for your leadership team that are tied to monetary bonuses. I recommend 30% of the bonus directly linked to the diversity and inclusion goals. Having worked with numerous tech organisations and had countless conversations on diversity and inclusion, if there is one thing I learnt, it is that setting diversity goals that will be financially rewarded is the only route to success. If you are wondering if this is worth the investment, let me share this: Inclusive organisations are TWICE more likely to exceed financial targets (Deloitte Research); 85% of CEOs whose companies have an inclusiveness strategy said it’s improved their bottom line (PWC CEO Survey); For companies ranking in the top quartile of executive-board diversity, Return On Equity were 53% higher (McKinsey Diversity Study) ; Companies with the most women board directors outperformed those with the least on invested capital (ROIC) by 26% (Catalyst’s 2011 study). There are many, many more studies available that demonstrate the return of investment on diversity and inclusion so investing some budget to reward diversity and inclusion will pay back, a lot.
5) Make the training voluntary and repeatable
The unconscious bias training should be voluntary because any mandatory training could backfire and have a counter-productive impact. Employees are usually willing to participate provided that companies let employees know that the program is important.Explain to employees “what’s in it for them” . Employees know that they need to learn new things to stay relevant in the job they have and prepare for future opportunities. Ask managers to support training efforts. Managers should want employees to attend training and keep their skills fresh. Hold managers and employees accountable for content. Instead of holding people accountable for attending a training program, hold them accountable for practicing the content. Make the training repeatable: unconscious bias training should be repeated over time. I recommend every 3 months. This allows maximised impact and keeps participants focused on unconscious bias.
6) Embed the training as part of a larger approach to diversity
Understand why diversity is important to your organisation:
The first place to start with diversity and inclusion for your organisation is to start with the why. Ask yourself why diversity and inclusion is important to your organisation. How will diversity and inclusion in your organisation help grow and scale your business? What is it about diversity and inclusion that will fundamentally drive all the things you will do with your organisation? Is it because you believe that having a diverse and inclusive workforce will help you better understand your consumers who are also diverse and therefore build better products that your customers will love? Is it because you think that diverse and inclusive teams work better together and are faster at problem solving and will execute better and therefore you will have a competitive advantage? Is it because having a diverse and inclusive workforce will force your organisation to think differently, to build more innovative apps and products and to generate more revenue through innovation? Whatever the reason is for what makes diversity and inclusion an important value for your organisation, you must take the time to craft your answer, clearly articulate why that’s important and write it down.
Articulate how diversity ties to your mission:
Once you have done the work of articulating why DEI is important to your organisation, you must work on how DEI ties to your mission. This is your opportunity to revisit or even create from scratch your organisation mission statement. Your mission statement defines what your organisation is, why it exists and its reason for being. At a minimum, your mission statement should define who your customers are, identify your products and services. At this stage, you must work on articulating how diversity and inclusion is part of your organisation mission statement. When you describe your organisation’s reason for being, you must clearly articulate how diversity and inclusion is part of your mission. This is probably the most critical part of setting your organisation for success regarding diversity and inclusion so take time to do this. If possible, try to tie in why your organisation exists with a diversity and inclusion statement. It may sound like “Our mission is to give free access to education to everyone because we believe that universal education will make the world more inclusive and bring more diversity in the workplace, in public institutions and in academia”. Or even “Our business exists because we believe everyone deserves always-on access to services regardless of their gender, race, socio-economic background, secual orientation, age and any other background.” Write it down in your mission statement and share your new mission statement everywhere: on your website, on your social media, with your employees, in a newsletter to your clients in the news, etc… Print your new mission statement and place it somewhere you and your team can see it every day.
Additional initiatives beyond just unconscious bias training are also required to create meaningful , long-term commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Face the truth about how diverse your workplace is or is not
At this point, as you get started with your own diversity and inclusion programmes, a good place to start is your own workforce diversity and inclusion. You should start by measuring how diverse and inclusive your workforce is today so that you can track progress as you start your own diversity and inclusion journey.
Limit defensiveness while communicating the importance of managing bias
Try to strike a balance between limiting defensiveness about unconscious bias training, while communicating the importance of managing bias. A common response to unconscious bias training is defensiveness so it is critical that the training is positioned in a way that limits defensiveness and articulates the benefits.
Be a change agent : take accountability personally and hold your leaders accountable
As an organisation leader, you must create a diversity and inclusion framework that creates a culture of inclusion and you need to personally buy into it and commit to it. Your support, commitment and accountability are essential elements to the implementation of a systematic process of inclusion at the workplace. In other words, you can’t say “we have a pipeline problem”, “there are not enough diverse candidates out there”, “we need to focus on revenue right now”, “we are too busy right now”. These types of sentences are exactly the opposite of what diversity and inclusion accountability are and are exactly why diversity and inclusion efforts fail.
In summary, unconscious bias training is effective when it is done the right way. As we transition into a new way of working where employees are more aware of social inequities, organisations must proactively take meaningful action to prevent unconscious bias and to boost diversity and inclusion. A Paychex study shows that 75% of employees are more loyal to highly transparent businesses. Organisations will need to be more transparent in regards to their diversity and inclusion initiatives. According to a July 2020 Fisher Phillip study, June 2020 's employee lawsuits increase represented an "exponential" rise in case filings. Discrimination and work-from-home or leave claims dominated the collection, representing 63 and 62 of the total cases, respectively. The pace of employee litigation has been accelerating. As employees are more likely to sue their employers for discrimination, organisations will invest more in unconscious bias training and in diversity and inclusion training.
How we can help
At Inspired Human, we provide high-quality unconscious bias training based on practical workplace examples and exercises across the tech sector so that you will notice a tangible difference in behaviour in your organisation, as part of an overall strategy for tackling racism in all its forms. Take the first step by booking an hour-long initial diversity and inclusion consultation today, free of charge.