Training That Targets Unconscious Bias

“Having a bias is only human. The only shame is in making no effort to improve. And human beings are an improving species – we have been improving ourselves in every way over millennia.”  Dr. Mahzarin Banaji, Harvard University

Research scientists are working to find ways to help people improve. There are many studies pointing to research-based techniques that can be implemented – individually and organizationally – to help reduce cognitive and social biases. For instance, researchers found that a certain kind of cognitive bias – confirmation bias – can be reduced through education and practice.

Yet, sensational headlines sometimes cause people to question the value of diversity training and, specifically, education on unconscious bias. There was a large study conducted a few years ago that found that diversity training programs that are designed poorly and made mandatory are not effective. Certainly, “old school” diversity training, where people feel shamed or blamed, never works.

Another study showed there are two types of diversity training that do work – 1) those that incorporate activities and exercises that require perspective-taking and 2) where attendees engage in goal setting. More recently, researchers reported that training can positively affect attitudes (which is a necessary precursor to behavior, structure, and culture change), although they didn’t see any long-term behavior change as a result of  one-off training sessions.

It isn’t surprising that one-offs have little long-term impact. Long-term behavior change requires continual education, accountability, tools, and opportunities to practice new skills and behaviors.

Why You Should Contact Kathleen About Educational Sessions on Unconscious Bias

I don’t do “old school” diversity training. My educational workshops are thought-provoking, surprising (in a good way), intellectually engaging, and don’t make people feel threatened. I have developed some key interactive exercises that incorporate the two types of training that work – perspective-taking and goal setting. In fact, my exercises produce huge aha’s for attendees in a way that causes the shifts in mindsets necessary for real change to happen in the organization.

Also, if you are seeking long-term impact from training, I have created tools that will help:
• a diversity & inclusion competencies framework
• a behaviorally anchored rating system for diversity and inclusion competencies
• a maturity model that benchmarks organizational progress on D+I
• DEI leadership assessments, and more.

When people call me about training, they often think a one or two-hour session will suffice. I certainly conduct those kinds of programs (minimum 90 minutes for unconscious bias). Attendees walk away with a clear understanding of unconscious bias, concrete ideas for interrupting it, and a personal action plan for doing so.

This type of program will get you started. But to make meaningful (as opposed to surface-level) progress, I frequently recommend that leaders go “all-in” by engaging in a more extended training and strategic planning session before rolling out training to all employees. Giving leaders the time to really learn about the topic and discuss strategy and next steps will lead to greater progress in the shortest amount of time. Leaders will also likely appreciate the opportunity to be seen as being ahead of the curve rather than playing catch-up in the eyes of employees. Read this memo or contact me about my master class in diversity, equity, and inclusion, which includes a deeper dive into unconscious bias.

“Kathleen offers invaluable advice on best practices and current developments on how law firms are finally beginning to implement meaningful and lasting improvements in increasing their Diversity and Inclusion. Her personal experiences in working with major law firms adds authenticity to her observations on what works and why, and what doesn’t work and why.”  D&I Chair of an AmLaw 100 Firm

Unconscious Proximity Biases Course

"Unconscious Proximity Biases" Course

Legal organizations implementing hybrid workplace models are at greater risk of accelerating inequities. Learn how to avoid treating colleagues as “out of sight, out of mind” in this 1 hour CLE accredited course.

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