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Does Unconscious Bias Training Really Work?

Much has been written about unconscious bias training, especially regarding the question of whether or not such training has the ability to impact organizational performance. This is a vital inquiry because the time and cost associated with training programs are great enough to warrant a close examination of the results they produce.

As with many initiatives, there are a variety of ways in which unconscious bias training can be conducted, and results often depend on the approach taken. At Cook Ross, we have been studying the research about unconscious bias for more than 15 years and actively working with clients in hundreds of companies all over the world for more than 12. Our study and expertise have resulted in significant, measurable success for our clients. The Cook Ross framework, which has four areas of focus, is an intervention strategy that is designed to impact the entire organization.

EDUCATION

Traditional diversity training often emphasizes differences which can increase tension between groups. This tension can result in backlash once participants complete the training. This has resulted in claims that “diversity training doesn’t work”. Cook Ross has distinguished eight factors that contribute to an effective training:

  1. Emphasize bias is fundamental to the way human beings process the world
  2. Be evidence-based
  3. Speak to common ground rather than differences
  4. Provide an understanding of the human mind and how we think
  5. Create experiential learning
  6. Make it relevant and applicable to their world
  7. Shift awareness and behavior
  8. Focus both individually and collectively

Unconscious Bias training can be an important part of a culture-based, systemic process of developing more inclusive cultures.

 

The 8 distinguishable factors of an effective #UnconsciousBias training. Click To Tweet

 

PRIMING

Training gets the process of changing the culture of the organization started, but without a commitment to a regular pattern of behavior, nothing will fundamentally change. Priming is a critical part of the process of behavioral sustainability because it can be used to remind people to apply their learning at the appropriate time. We often say that completing the training is like joining the gym; it gets the process of changing the culture of the organization started, but, like the gym membership, without a commitment to a regular pattern of behavior, nothing will fundamentally change. We have identified several ways to use priming techniques to trigger more mindful behaviors including performance support tools, nudging, and physical environment cues.

 

Training = joining the gym - w/o commitment to regular behavior, nothing will fundamentally change. Click To Tweet

 

STRUCTURES AND SYSTEMS

Cook Ross has extensively researched how to build organizational structures and systems that create inclusive communities. When we build alternative ways to structure some of our basic systems, we can dramatically impact how conscious people are in decision-making. We look at the primary talent management systems: recruitment, sourcing, interviewing, hiring, onboarding, mentoring and sponsorship, performance review, calibration, recognizing talent, and developing and promoting talent.

 

ACCOUNTABILITY

The fourth intervention strategy is to use carefully constructed analytics to track how the organization is performing. An effective way to accomplish this is through “batching” metrics. Often, diversity and inclusion metrics are reduced to “how many are there”? However, if we combine a batch of metrics, we get a much deeper understanding of where breakdowns exist in our system.

 

Batching metrics provides a deeper understanding of breakdowns in our org's systems. Click To Tweet

 

There is no simple way to resolve the challenge of unconscious bias. In fact, in many cases it is not possible to eliminate it. However, we can often mitigate the impact of bias by employing a thoughtful, systemic approach that focuses on the four interventions: introducing the right kind of education, installing priming techniques, modifying structures and systems, and building the appropriate accountability measures. In this way, we can create organizational systems that support people in being more aware of their decision-making and more inclusive in their behavior. Ultimately, this produces organizations in which anyone can succeed!

 

To learn more about Cook Ross’ four interventions, please read our thought paper, Four Intervention Strategies that Can Help Create More Consciously Inclusive Organizations

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