Implicit bias training, also referred to as unconscious bias training, is designed to help employees understand and reduce the role of unconscious bias within their company or organization. An implicit bias refers to the stereotypes or attitudes that affect an employee’s decisions, actions, and understanding in an unconscious manner.
One example of an unconscious bias is attribution bias, in which you try to make sense of or judge an individual’s behavior based on your prior interactions and observations you have had with that person that make up your perception of them. When hiring, attribution bias can cause recruiters and hiring managers to determine a job candidate unfit for the position because of an unexpected behavior during the interview or something unusual on their resume.
Through discussion and education, implicit bias training teaches employees how to recognize and manage their biases. Implementing implicit bias training in your company or organization contributes to the fairer treatment and improved diversity of employees, business partners, and job candidates.
An implicit bias training program is promising, as it helps your employees understand the innocuous nature of their unconscious thoughts and the detrimental consequences. It’s important to understand that while an implicit bias is often linked to negative consequences, it’s also flexible, which means it’s worthwhile for your company to help your employees minimize their own biases. Major companies like Google and Facebook have done just that and implemented their own implicit bias training programs to the public.
Implicit bias training is important because it improves awareness and minimizes stigma. It’s important to help employees understand that implicit biases are normal and not a sign of purposeful discriminatory intent. If your employees understand that biases are part of the human condition, it becomes easier for them to recognize and label these biases.
That said, awareness alone isn’t enough. Implicit bias training should also make clear the damaging consequences of bias in other areas of one’s life and, most importantly, provide tools to help employees actively change their biases. One study revealed that bias minimization over time is possible. If you empower your employees to make changes, implicit biases in the workplace are less likely to go unchecked.
Here’s an article that explains why implicit bias training must be the first step in any equity, diversity, and inclusion initiative.
Here are the steps you should take when conducting implicit bias training:
Your facilitator can make or break the training, so it’s important to choose one carefully. The person facilitating the training should be highly qualified and have several years of experience in various workplace diversity issues. He or she should have in-depth skills in explaining not only the psychology behind the training, but also how it relates to workplace issues. For instance, if your employees work in a relaxed, fun atmosphere, they may not respond well to a monotone facilitator.
Structure the training into short, recurring sessions instead of offering a one-and-done event. This makes it easy for your employees to understand psychological constructs in each session. Multiple training sessions can facilitate the time and repetition needed to enact meaningful change.
Successful implicit bias training should provide actionable tips to help employees manage their biases. However, it shouldn’t begin there. Instead, start with the “why” and the “what” — what is an implicit bias, and why is it necessary to understand it? Begin by discussing what implicit bias is and where does it stem from.
Biases come from several factors that are unique to each person: their memories, childhood, friend groups, culture, experiences, and so on. Discuss how each of these factors causes unconscious biases, and your employees will start to consider their own lives and determine causes for their own biases.
The “why” is equally important. Be honest and direct about the negative effects of implicit bias in your company and the world in general. Make sure to provide specific examples that show the impacts of implicit bias, both on an individual, human level, and on a broader scale. You should also emphasize how beneficial it is to have an inclusive and diverse workplace. Once your employees are emotionally invested in resolving the issue, they will be more committed to your implicit bias training program.
Provide detailed, relevant examples as you explain the steps your employees can take once they complete the training. Provide them with several hypothetical situations where inherent bias affects an employee’s decision-making or actions. These scenarios may relate to a routine meeting, a hiring decision, or even a casual lunchtime conversation. In each situation, discuss what your employees could have done to reduce the impacts of their bias. Employees will relate to these scenarios without feeling like they are being criticized.
If you want to learn more unconscious bias examples and how to avoid them in the workplace, head to this article.
The mention of the training might disappoint some of your employees — not because they are insensitive individuals, but because the training may reduce the time they have to spend on their work. However, implicit training won’t be effective if each session is full of frustrated employees wanting to focus on their work.
Provide your employees with more options by repeating each session at several different times. Dividing employees into small groups allows for more interactive and personal sessions, and you’ll accommodate your employees by letting them take part in the sessions that fit into their schedules.
Instead of delivering endless slideshows or hour-long speeches, create an interactive and engaging environment where your employees are as vocal as your facilitator. Initiate a dialogue and encourage your employees to share their experiences, ask questions, and learn from each other. Integrate interactive exercises such as simulations, role-playing, and collaborative problem-solving. While implicit bias is a serious topic, you can still make the training engaging and enjoyable. Above all else, the training should be a place where your employees feel safe to express their own opinions or viewpoints.
Implicit bias isn’t something that can be “removed” or “cured.” It’s a problem your employees must explore and work to understand their entire lives. Once your bias training sessions conclude, specify some goals your employees can work toward every day moving forward in and outside of the workplace. Motivate them to keep the conversation going by providing additional resources and content they can spend time with and offering follow-up sessions as they continue their own personal journeys to overcome implicit bias.
There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy for implementing implicit bias training. A training that works for one company or organization might not work at a different company, and vice versa. The most important factor is an environment where your employees feel safe, understood, and engaged. Make sure to gather feedback at the end of each session and continue to refine your training. With the right approach, your company’s implicit bias training will contribute to a more healthy, accepting, and diverse workplace culture.