The bias against Unconscious Bias training

A recent BBC article titled ‘The complicated battle over Unconscious Bias training’  hits the nail on the head for me. The whole debate over the validity of Unconsious Bias training is frustrating on many levels.

There is always a risk of thinking that training is a fix-all. As someone that has sourced, designed and delivered lots of training in organisations over many years I’m well aware that any training that is for awareness raising needs to be part of a larger campaign.

For a multi-faceted topic like ED&I, awareness raising should slot in under the umbrella of a robust policy and strategy, which is led from the top.

The whole point of training on ED&I is that it should be a ‘safe place’ to have difficult conversations. I’ve delivered dozens of sessions in my career on equality, diversity and inclusion. At different times they’ve been called different things. Most recently, Dignity at Work was a popular title. It’s all about not switching people off to the topic before they walk through the training room door by trying to find the common ground. This is the first hurdle you face as a trainer for any training that is ‘mandated’ by the organisation.

I had felt that Unconscious Bias training – by taking a different vantage point on issues around ED&I, was helpful. It ensures that conversations in the training room, at times when sensitivities are heightened (think back to last year’s BLM protests and corresponding ‘backlash’ citing All Lives Matter) can be framed in a ‘safe’ way. At a time when rhetoric on social media can be divisive, going back to origins of why we behave in certain ways is a useful starting point.

No steps forward into understanding can be made until minds are opened, and for those ‘cancelling’ Unconscious Bias training they are missing an opportunity. Imagine if senior leaders all showed up and fully engaged in discussions. What a powerful example that would set.

For those organisations that state that following Unconscious Bias training ‘nothing has improved’ – I would ask, what did they expect? If leaders do not fundamentally get behind an agenda, then that itself ‘leaks’ into their organisations culture. It’s a question of alignment. Employees aren’t daft. They want to see an example to follow. A clear policy and strategy. Openness and transparency. ED&I issues can be complex. No-one organisation will get everything right first time. But having the right framework in place, and being open to learning, at all levels, is key.


Need training or support with your work around Unconscious Bias or Equality, Diversity and Inclusion? We offer the following:

CMI qualifications in Diversity and Inclusion – self-study with individual tuition

Short courses and workshops

Group Coaching for Equality, Diversity & Inclusion New Leaders

Need consultancy support? Get in touch at rachel@talentstorm.co.uk

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