The question of bias is at its heart a complex and difficult one. Regardless of how open-minded we claim to be, the truth is human nature, society and culture have all come meshed together to produce stereotyping and prejudices that inform how we behave towards one another.
These biases can manifest in very public demonstrations as recently seen in a Starbucks when two African-American men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, were arrested for behavior that had other individuals exhibited the outcome would have been very different. We see it in the many instances whereby a female colleague is assumed to be the secretary or the assistant rather than the boss, or when the wearing of a headscarf or a turban results in a person automatically getting selected for a pat-down at airport security.
The litany of examples of bias is long and makes for disturbing reading, and unfortunately, often the response is either apathy or acceptance, an attitude that such is human behavior and there’s very little we can do about it.
I find this way of thinking almost more disheartening than the atrocities mentioned above.
Absolutely there is something we can do. It’s called Unconscious Bias training.
How does it work?
Unconscious bias training helps people recognize and observe their own biases, and establish how best to overcome such prejudices and improve diversity in the workplace.
It affords individuals the opportunity to examine how their behavior reflects their biases and offers methods and solutions for people to use to ensure incidents like that which happened in Philadelphia do not occur again.
I think of it as raising awareness. Yes there are times when one might argue that the bias is not exactly unconscious, but what this training does is raise everyone’s awareness to the fact that how we treat customers, colleagues and others must be a fixed state and not change depending on the individuals’ gender, race, ethnicity, religion, age or sexual preference.
Where to start?
While in the middle of the media firestorm, fed with video of the entire “reprehensible” episode, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson announced that today, Tuesday, May 29 all 8,000 company-owned US Starbucks will close and roughly 175,000 employees will receive implicit, or unconscious, bias training. The move is estimated to cost Starbucks somewhere between $6 and $8 million, added to the figure already lost due to a drop in sales and sales lost from boycotts.
Not all training is the same.
Precisely what this training will involve is unclear. What is clear though is that merely lecturing employees on appropriate and inappropriate behavior will not create meaningful behavioral change and potentially could inflame already fragile relationships.
Skillsoft invests heavily in brain science research to inform the development of instructional content that can bring about real behavioral change. Learners need three things in a content experience for optimal learning: relevance, meaning, and emotion.
We designed our content to meet these needs. Our content incorporates real-world scenarios that foster a linkage between emotion and cognition. This synergistic dynamic ensures the learning experience is “seen” through the learner’s eyes which makes the learning stick, and better retention results in the increased likelihood of changed behavior.
Training is just one piece of the puzzle.
I applaud Kevin Johnson for taking that first step and for recognizing the importance of education in working to tackle this problem. However, we must be careful not to assume that unconscious bias training is the perfect panacea and simply implementing one such program will automatically rid the organization of bias.
As I’ve said many times, such seismic shifts only come about through a transformation in the entire culture of an organization. There is no one-stop solution for ridding an organization of bias; it happens only with ongoing and continuous training and executive-led company buy-in.
Norm Ford is VP of Operations for Compliance Solutions at Skillsoft.