Unconscious bias training “a bit of a fad”

HR departments are increasingly investing in training to tackle inadvertent prejudice – but would their budget be better spent elsewhere?

A recently released survey suggests HR professionals have challenges ahead in terms of addressing discrimination in the workplace.

It found that less than a third (31 per cent) of organizations responded that they address the needs of a culturally diverse workforce.

Moreover, it concluded that many organisations fail to adopt “measureable goals and accountabilities” related to their diversity and inclusion policies.

Dimitria Groutsis, senior lecturer in the discipline of work and organisational studies at the University of Sydney Business School, told HRM that addressing these problems cannot be down to just unconscious bias training which in itself has limitations.  

“I think unconscious bias training has become a bit of a fad and a bit of a buzz word. It’s very fashionable training and development,” she said.

Groutsis added that raising awareness about particular ways of viewing the world is very important and she is not recommending that the training should be done away with altogether. Rather, the anti-discrimination training should acknowledge the conscious side as well.

Groutsis said that unconscious bias training suggests that we’re unconsciously creating bias when sometimes it can actually be conscious.
Women’s access to promotions and pay for instance are structural and systemic barriers which are much more than just unconscious bias, Groutsis explained.

Further, she argued that HR needs to be properly resourced to tackle the situation more effectively.

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“I think that we’re placing a great level of responsibility on these managers to implement these initiatives and to have great results without necessarily resourcing them the way that they should be,” she said.

Moreover, HR professionals need to be managing the process of change at all levels, she said.

“It’s one thing implementing training and development strategy, but it’s another thing though seeing the fruits of those labours,” said Groutsis.

“It’s important to understand whether or not these strategies and initiatives are having decent and solid outcomes.”

Indeed, the survey found that only 41 per cent of respondents indicated that they monitor how these strategies are doing and what their benefits are.

Groutsis agreed that employees should be trained on diversity initiatives right from onboarding and then regularly throughout employment thereafter.  

She also told HRM that it is really important to start at a tertiary level the understanding of diverse groups.

“So cultural competence being embedded throughout all institutional training whether you’re a scientist, a social scientist, a mathematician, etc,” she said.

“We need to understand how we navigate our way through a workplace by interacting with diverse groups and I think that that needs to be embedded at the tertiary level to make people understand in a conscious way what they’re doing and in an unconscious way what they’re doing.”

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