There has been a lot of commentary and chatter recently about Unconscious Bias Training. Critique of its lack of effectiveness and concern regarding organisations, especially charities, spending significant amounts of cash on these interventions. The problem is the concern is misplaced and criticism misguided. In order to illustrate my point I am going to use coronavirus as an example.
If we imagine a lack of inclusive behaviours as the disease that is maligning our society. Unconscious Bias (UB) training is not a cure. It was never designed to eradicate, resolve or remove non inclusive or discriminatory behaviour. No, UB interventions are a test to identify whether you have the potential to be prejudice. It is also in some ways a pointless test as we will all test positive. It is impossible not to have unconscious bias and that is because of how our brains are wired. If you are interested in reading a bit more about how UB works then I highly recommend Blindspot by Banaji & Greenwald. The book provides a number of links to the free online Harvard Implicit Association Tests. However, the simplest and most accessible exercise to understand your mind requires only a shuffled deck of cards, a friend and a stopwatch.
The role for your partner is to time your speed for this task so you have a comparison afterwards. OK, hold the deck face up and sort the cards as quickly as you can into Hearts & Diamonds / Spades & Clubs. Right now give them a good shuffle and repeat the sorting this time placing the cards in piles of Hearts & Clubs / Spades & Diamonds. Look at the difference between your times, perhaps even repeat the exercise, and have a think about what your results are telling you…
The key point of this weeks’ post is to highlight that rather than picking on a diagnostic tool that is primarily designed to illustrate how bias forms, the bigger question is investment in the more challenging work of tackling cultural norms, building empathy and creating environments, processes and policies that prioritise equity and build higher levels of inclusion and belonging. There is no shortcut to positive inclusive outcomes and investing all of your time effort and energy into UB and expecting it to transform your organisation is the equivalent of having a test for COVID and believing you’ve been vaccinated, twice!
So if you would like to take some implicit tests or embark on some UB training I’d encourage you to do so as it is eye opening. But, what is most important is that you see it as the start of your work rather than an end in itself. Building and honing your inclusion muscles is a constant process. There is no finish line but it can be a wonderful never ending journey of self discovery and learning. You won’t always get things right and this feels like an appropriate moment to remind you of the poem I first shared with you in one of my earlier blog posts ‘Comfort Zone‘. ‘Autobiography in Five Short Chapters’ by Portia Nelson from the wonderfully titled “There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery” is a useful reminder to be gentle with yourself on the road to being more inclusive. Unconscious Bias training may well be your first step but if you are serious about this, it will definitely not be your last… #ImNotTired