Does Implicit Bias Training Actually Work?

Implicit bias at work refers to the unconscious prejudice that an employee might face in their place of work. In order to curb the presence of this bias among its employees, enterprises use training programs and workshops. However, in recent times, the effectiveness of these programs has been brought into question since implicit bias continues to prevail. On the other hand, there are increasing developments and extensive research that is being conducted to make these programs more valuable. 

The Purpose of Implicit Bias Training 

Implicit bias was first mentioned in a paper written by Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald in 1995. Since then, companies have become more aware of the prevalence of this bias. 

The modern workplace is characterized by employees that come from various backgrounds in addition to other aspects. Given the rise in multinational companies and globalization, it is only natural that people from all over the world congregate in a single building to carry out essential business operations. 

The purpose of these implicit bias training programs is to educate the employees of a company about certain hidden biases that they may possess towards their co-workers. Being an extension of diversity and inclusion training, a person participating in this program will be able to identify underlying prejudices or perceptions that they may have towards another person. 

Challenges of Implicit Bias Training 

A large body of research finds that implicit bias training can be rendered ineffective for various reasons. The reasons why implicit bias training requires proper planning and implementation is because of the following reasons: 

  • Societal Norm

Bias is considered to be one of the most devastating hidden aspects of society. In every case, prejudice is taught to the masses. An individual is not born having certain biases. Therefore, something that has been a part of one’s upbringing and even interactions will lead to deep-rooted bias. Thus, implicit bias training will have to eradicate beliefs that have become a norm in society. 

  • Reinforcing Effect

Some studies have also shown that carrying out training programs will also lead to reinforcement in unhealthy bias. The reason behind this result is due to the fact that the employees are told that these biases are unconscious or involuntary. Thus, the participants feel as though they need not put in the effort to eradicate them. Some employees may even be left with the idea that to have biases means to be human. This means that they no longer see anything wrong with having them. 

  • Personal Efforts

One of the primary reasons implicit bias training may not be effective is that it focuses only on awareness. That is, it leaves the responsibility of curbing unconscious bias on the individual participants. This can lead to many employees overlooking the importance of getting rid of such notions. 

How to Craft an Effective Implicit Bias Training Program 

So how can an enterprise ensure that the Implicit Bias Training Program being shown to its employees has any bearing? Given the several challenges that are present in this method, it may leave many wondering if it can even work. 

For any training program to have a lasting impact on the company, especially one propagating idea about bias prevention, will require certain improvements. These include: 

  • Going Beyond Awareness

As mentioned before, in traditional implicit bias training programs, the priority was only given to awareness. For this reason, the program must extend beyond just a seminar aiming to create awareness. 

One interesting method that has proven results is forming sharing groups. These groups will have individuals belonging to a variety of backgrounds. The conversations in this group will require each participant to share personal experiences, opinions, and changes regarding unconscious bias. Therefore, an enterprise can receive a more detailed rundown of possible strategies they could implement to curb it. 

  • Targeting all Departments

For the longest time, implicit bias was always uncovered in the human resources department and the recruitment process. This is because it was the most conspicuous occurrence. However, it soon became clear that biases are present in almost every department. 

Therefore, the strategies that an enterprise may implement post-training will have to apply to every business fragment. One method of ensuring that each department is free from implicit bias is to introduce “Inclusive Leadership”. This applies to the managers working in each department. 

  • Implementing Strategies

In order to ensure that implicit bias is removed on a large scale, an enterprise can first test out the strategies in smaller environments. In addition to this, one can also create operational policies based on statistics by assessing a smaller business portion if a large-scale assessment is not possible. Therefore, the way in which strategies are designed will also change. 

  • Positive Examples

An enterprise looking to introduce a training program should look for a certain kind of program provider. That is, the subject in the seminar should not be restricted to only what not to do. But rather, it should primarily focus on what to do to eradicate bias. In other words, choose the program that provides a clear picture of Dos rather than Don’ts. 

  • Increasing Interaction

Another feature to look for in a program involves interaction. An enterprise may look to partake in a program simply because they need to fulfill a certain quota or mandate put forward by the government. Therefore, to improve the engagement with the viewers and set a better precedent, the program should have more interaction overall. This can include discussion in smaller groups and other activities. 

  • Incorporation of Vocabulary

Another way that implicit bias training could work is by introducing certain unbiased vocabulary. By doing so, the principles of the bias prevention training can be brought into the daily life of every employee. That is, employees will remember to make an active effort to reduce the bias they have towards a co-worker or a group of them on a microscopic level. 

Research Regarding the Value of Implicit Bias Training 

An extensive research project was carried out by Harvard Business School to determine once and for all if this training has any positive effects on people. The preliminary research brought about a host of mixed reactions. However, the benefits of implicit bias training became clear in a meta-analysis created by a research team. This team came to the consensus that for a training program to be effective, it has to have the right length, content, audience, and accompanying benefits. 

In fact, according to Google research done on its own employees, 96% of the employees engaged in the program were willing to eradicate the biases they possess. However, to ensure that companies who engaged in training programs actually implemented any tangible anti-bias strategies, another set of surveys were done at a tech company. 

The survey was released by a company offering training programs. The results of this research showed that the employees still adhered to some points mentioned in the training program even 8 months after it. This was supported by the fact that the company introduced certain strategies against bias.

Thus, it is safe to say that implicit bias training has a place in the modern workplace and will have a difference. The key to engaging the workforce of a company involves finding the right training program. A company should look for a program that goes beyond just making employees aware of their bias and providing a strategy to mitigate it.

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