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Please don't give up on unconscious bias trainings

April 2023





In late January, three separate people sent me three different articles questioning the efficacy of DEI trainings and, more specifically, implicit bias trainings. Implicit/unconscious bias trainings can get a bad reputation. As someone who facilitates these trainings for part of her livelihood, I appreciate how important it is to be familiar with the critiques of a space you work in.


The reality is that unconscious bias trainings can be unproductive and can even backfire. I typically see th​is happen in a few circumstances: where the facilitator ​attempts to change minds by making people feel ashamed or blamed; where "quick fix" solutions are promised (do these two things for one week and your lifelong biases will vanish!); or where participants are not given practical tools to challenge their biases.


This HBR article, Unconscious Bias Training That Works (hbr.org), does the best ​job I've seen of describing how to do unconscious bias trainings right. I try to use a similar model to what they describe, breaking down the work into three critical steps:

  • First, increase participants' awareness of their biases (because how can we challenge something we're not aware of?).

  • Second, the participants are concerned about the impact of these biases if they were to act upon them. (Because if you don't care, nothing's going to change.)

  • Third, give participants tools to regularly, consistently, practice challenging and interrupting their biases as they arise. As the article points out, this last step cannot be overlooked: it's critical to provide participants with practical strategies to challenge their biases that they put into practice once the class concludes. Actions and behaviors are typically easier to change than minds.

There is no quick fix for reversing the narrative that has been playing in your head about an identity group your whole life. If you're looking to find a facilitator in this space, ask them lots of questions. Ask them to describe specifically how they encourage the unwinding of implicit biases. Don't expect overnight results and remember this work CAN be effective and, when it is, it's pretty darn amazing. Your brain encourages you not to give up!




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