I met up with a former colleague last week who keeps in touch with
their ex team members on social media and was beginning to regret it.
A picture of a child’s soft doll with bright clothes, a black face
and fuzzy hair was being shared with the words , “Let’s see
how many shares we can get before this is removed”. He was
shocked and disappointed. As a manager he had championed equality and
diversity at every opportunity and had ensured all his staff attended
awareness training courses. As he said this ex member of staff
modified their behaviour and language at work but the training had
clearly not changed their views which they now felt free to express.
This conversation seemed to reinforce recent findings that
unconscious bias and diversity training were ineffective in having any
lasting impact on employees. This has led many organisations to
reconsider such training. However before dismissing unconscious bias
training altogether it is relevant to recognise that in most
organisations this training is a one off as part of new employees
induction and often consists of a couple of hours or half a day. Even
so the evaluation of such training sessions does suggest that
employees come away with an understanding of what is meant by
unconscious bias and a recognition of the power of stereotypes.
An example I have used in training is the scenario in which a father
and son are involved in a serious road traffic accident. They are cut
out of their vehicle and rushed into hospital where they are wheeled
into adjoining operating theatres for emergency surgery. Immediately
on seeing the young boy the surgeon declares,” I can not operate on
this child he is my son”. Those who have not heard this story before
are asked to provide an explanation for what the surgeon said.
Another successful exercise was to encourage participants to think
about an occasion when they have felt excluded and then imagine what
it must be like to always feel an outsider. Increased empathy has been
show to have a more lasting effect on behaviour.
By exploring the power of stereotypes and acknowledging that without
being aware of it they may be influencing our views and trying to put
participants in someone else’s shoes the training aims to over comes
participants initial reluctance to accept that they may be prejudice.
Instead of dismissing unconscious bias and diversity training as
ineffective HR and management need to recognise this is just a first
step. It is helpful to look at the such training in the same way you
would approach a programme to get fit or lose weight. First you need
to recognise you’re not fit and our over weight, it helps if you have
facts about what it means to be fit and healthy, if you are to get fit
and healthy you will need support and encouragement, you will need to
remind yourself every so often why you are putting in all this effort
and you will be aware that the results won’t be felt over night. In
fact if you are to remain fit and keep the weight off you are looking
at some serious life style changes.
From the organisation’s perspective tackling unconscious bias and
promoting diversity has to be built into the culture of the
organisation , how we do things here, not a one off training course.
Which means senior managers must model the desired behaviour,
disciplinary action must be taken for unacceptable behaviour and
language and from a very practical point view greater care should be
taken in recruiting employees. Many years ago when I was interviewing
for care staff in homes for older people I insisted that the person
specification should include two essential requirements, a basic
understanding of what we mean by equality and a positive attitude to
From my experience as a trainer, recruiter and manager unconscious
bias and diversity training is far more effective if you recruit
staff who are receptive in the first place.
Blair Mcpherson former Director and author of An Elephant in the Room
- an equality and diversity training manual published by www.rusellhouse.co.uk