Since the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and too many others, major corporations have been implementing new diversity and inclusion initiatives. Among them has been unconscious bias training.
What is unconscious bias training?
Unconscious bias training addresses how our minds have been conditioned to act when we counter people who we perceive as different from us. Our brains have learned to be afraid, suspicious and judgmental of differences because of our personal experiences and messages, both explicit and subliminal, from our parents, media and society. This conditioning may lead us to reject or misinterpret how others speak or act. At work, this conditioning may manifest in the failure to hire, develop or promote those who aren’t like us.
Unconscious bias training teaches us about this conditioning and how it creates barriers to diversity and inclusion. It makes participants aware of these problems, so they can become more welcoming of those around them.
While unconscious bias training is a scientifically grounded approach designed to help individuals realize and start to address their biases, it isn’t enough. That’s because unconscious bias training only addresses part of the problem. Self-awareness won’t address the diversity and inclusion problems in today’s workplace, namely the barriers holding back traditionally underrepresented talent. Even in organizations that have invested heavily in unconscious bias training, racially and ethnically underrepresented groups have failed to advance.
Organizations need to take a more comprehensive approach to diversity and inclusion. Your leaders and employees need to be able to recognize unconscious bias and be able to counter and mitigate it. But that too isn’t enough. Your talent processes must also be fair and equitable. To do so, you need two things: what we call behavioral inclusion and structural inclusion.
What is behavioral inclusion?
Behavioral inclusion goes deeper than unconscious bias training. It teaches individuals about the biases that affect their decision‑making, then shows them how to use this self-awareness to behave more inclusively.
Behavioral inclusion exercises, which are grounded in neuroscience research, expose our biases against certain races, genders, sexual orientations, physical and mental abilities, accents and more. Participants learn about their blind spots caused by unconscious bias that distort their attitudes, actions and decisions involving those who are different from them.
This is where the typical unconscious bias training stops. But simply making individuals aware of their biases isn’t enough to effect change. You have to help people develop counter-bias capabilities — the skills, competencies, tools and techniques that turn awareness into moment-to-moment actions that help them make better decisions based on an understanding and appreciation of difference, not on erroneous assumptions.
To achieve this goal, you need a learning journey that allows participants to practice counterintuitive and consciously inclusive behaviors in real-life work situations. They need to apply their knowledge and skills to scenarios that involve interviewing, mentoring, managing performance and resolving conflict, which are often the talent-related activities most deeply affected by unconscious bias and can prevent all talent from achieving their full potential.
What is structural inclusion?
Talent systems and processes are designed to help talent grow and advance. But many organizations have systems and processes plagued by built‑in biases. Even if these biases weren’t intentional, they still effectively halt the progress of traditionally underrepresented talent. Our research shows that women are promoted less often and that members of racially and ethnically underrepresented groups are promoted less and given less favorable performance evaluations than white people. The numbers don’t lie: only 7% of Fortune 500 CEOs are female and only four are Black.
These numbers show that organizations have to make a stronger effort to build diversity and inclusion into their systems and structures, because counter-bias training alone isn’t enough. Structural inclusion puts equitable, transparent systems and processes in place to prevent and correct unconscious bias. It reinforces behavioral inclusion, so that all team members have the opportunity to contribute equally. And when organizations implement behavioral and structural inclusion together, they build more diverse and inclusive teams. In turn, they improve their collective intelligence, decision quality, problem-solving capability and creativity.
The three pillars of structural inclusion: Equality, equity and inclusive design
Structural inclusion takes a broad look at the organization as a whole to address equality, equity and inclusive design.
Equality focuses on ensuring fairness for everyone. Its goal is to not treat anyone differently or unfairly because of who they are. Organizations improve equality by including it in their values and codes of ethics and by establishing nondiscriminatory policies and practices in hiring, assessment, promotion and rewards.
Equity differs markedly from equality. Its focus is righting past wrongs and leveling the playing field. Everyone hasn’t had an equal opportunity to compete in and benefit from a system that is supposed to be available fairly and equally for all; some people have an unearned advantage or disadvantage that perpetuates inequities in access, rewards, opportunity and support.
It’s impossible for organizations to achieve equality without equity. To achieve fairness, then, organizations must define what equality means to them and for their talent management processes.
Next, they must study their talent processes to root out and eliminate potential inequities. Then, as they rethink their talent management systems, they must follow an inclusive design approach to reduce the risk of inequities. To learn more about inclusive design, read our whitepaper, The “reference man” rules: Why one size fits all leaves most of us out.
How to start building a truly diverse and inclusive organization
While unconscious bias training is a start, it’s not enough to truly transform your organization. To address barriers to inclusion, you must implement a broader set of behavioral inclusion measures and address the systems and processes that have contributed to inequity and inequality in your organization.
That means you need structural inclusion, with systems and processes informed by inclusive design principles that not only stop unconscious bias but prevent it from happening in the first place.
To learn more about behavioral and structural inclusion, read the full article, Asleep at the wheel: Why a singular focus on unconscious bias is driving diversity and inclusion off the road. And if you need help figuring out how to start your journey of transformation, reach out to our consultants today.