A super sharp consultant I was working with recently said unconscious bias training doesn’t work. He is partly correct in his belief, and, as with any generalized truth, he’s also wrong.
For a moment, step away from the study that supports the consultant’s belief that the training doesn’t work. Get some perspective. The goal is to reduce the instances of biased hiring, payment, and promotion because of gender, race, ability (and many other differences unrelated to job performance). More people in your company than you might be willing to admit do not align with this purpose. They don’t care.
Caring matters because people must care to change. Implicit bias training only works for people who care. When your employees care about unfair bias, they want to learn how their habits are inconsistent with their values and beliefs. As they become aware of their biases and behaviors, they can counter them with proven methods. For example, they might practice consciously moving toward, rather than away, from large black men they encounter. They might intentionally strike up conversations. They might imagine people with back-stories full of love and courage. As they deliberately practice, their behaviors change and biases fade away.
So, what about the people who don’t care? That’s more difficult – real change requires an intentional cultural solution. The leaders must exert their power and influence to create a context which rewards caring and punishes not caring. If the leaders step up to the challenge, the organization will evolve toward a more diverse and equitable culture.
Implicit bias training won’t do a thing in a culture that that does not value fair hiring, payment, and promotion. Look at the companies where implicit bias training hasn’t worked, and you will learn much about their real culture in action.