May 29

Unconscious Bias: How successful is unconscious bias training?

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Unconscious bias training (UBT) has been widely adopted by organizations to address implicit biases and promote diversity and inclusion. However, the effectiveness of UBT in achieving long-term behavioral change is a subject of ongoing debate. According to McKinsey in 2020 "the global market for DEI—that is, dollars spent by companies on DEI-related efforts such as employee resource groups (ERGs)—was estimated at $7.5 billion and is projected to more than double to $15.4 billion by 2026. 

Mixed Results

Recent studies have yielded mixed results regarding the success of UBT. Some studies suggest that UBT can increase awareness of unconscious biases and reduce their strength, but the evidence for long-term behavioral change is limited[1][2][4]. For instance, a study by Atewologun et al. found that while UBT can reduce the strength of bias, there is insufficient evidence to indicate its effectiveness in changing behavior[1]. Similarly, a study by Chang at Harvard Business School found that an hour-long online diversity course changed some attitudes but did not lead to significant behavioral change[2].

Contextual Factors

The success of UBT is influenced by various contextual factors. For example, mandatory UBT is generally more effective than voluntary UBT, and UBT delivered to those who work closely together in a team unit is more effective than UBT delivered to individuals[1]. Additionally, the format and duration of the training can impact its effectiveness, with longer-term training programs and interactive workshops being more effective than brief, one-off sessions[3][5].

Criticisms and Limitations

Criticisms of UBT include the lack of standardization and the relative novelty of the training, which makes it difficult to assess its overall efficacy[3][4]. Some argue that UBT can be seen as a "tick-box exercise" and that it may not lead to meaningful change if not integrated into a broader diversity and inclusion strategy[4]. Furthermore, research has questioned the reliability of the Implicit Association Test (IAT), a common tool used in UBT, as it can yield varying results and may not accurately diagnose underlying prejudice[2].

In conclusion, while the evidence for the effectiveness of UBT is mixed, it is not a reason to dismiss the training altogether. By understanding the limitations and incorporating recommendations for improvement, organizations can design more effective UBT programs that contribute to a more inclusive and equitable workplace. Or can they? Let's see what works and what doesn't next. 

Citations:
[1] https://rrapp.hks.harvard.edu/how-effective-is-unconscious-bias-training-a-comprehensive-evaluation-of-recent-assessments/
[2] https://www.theguardian.com/science/2021/apr/25/what-unconscious-bias-training-gets-wrong-and-how-to-fix-it
[3] https://www.cultureamp.com/blog/unconscious-bias-training
[4] https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20210326-the-complicated-battle-over-unconscious-bias-training
[5] https://theewgroup.com/blog/does-unconscious-bias-training-work/


How do different types of unconscious bias training compare in effectiveness

Different types of unconscious bias training (UBT) vary in their effectiveness, with some approaches showing more promise than others. Here are some key findings from recent studies:

Implicit Association Test (IAT) and Debrief

Effectiveness: Some studies have found that using the Implicit Association Test (IAT) coupled with a debrief is an effective means of raising awareness and reducing bias[1]. However, there are criticisms from Psychologists as to the validity of the IAT.

Long-term Training Programs

Effectiveness: Long-term training programs, such as those lasting several weeks or months, have been shown to be more effective in reducing bias compared to brief, one-off sessions[1][5].

Interactive Workshops

Effectiveness: Interactive workshops, which involve active participation and discussion, are more effective than passive training methods like watching videos or slides[1][5]. This is generally true for all types of training and therefore not an exclusive property of UCB training. It's just good practice. 

Mandatory vs. Voluntary Training

Effectiveness: Mandatory UBT is generally more effective than voluntary UBT, as it ensures broader participation and engagement[3]. This holds for other types of training as well. Why - well in my opinion it signals that the company is serious aboutthe training rationale and therefore will surround the training with other embedded policy and behaviour decisions.

Online vs. Face-to-Face Training

Equally Effective: Research suggests that online and face-to-face UBT are equally effective for raising awareness, but the context and delivery matter more than the format[3]. Again this is true for other types of training, making this debate irrelevant for UCB training. 

Multipronged Initiatives

More Effective: Studies recommend using multipronged, interdisciplinary initiatives that are sustained over an extended period to achieve meaningful results[1][5]. Again, this is good training practice. 

Behavioral Change

VERY Limited Evidence: While UBT can increase awareness and reduce bias, there is limited evidence that it leads to long-term behavioral change without broader systemic support[3][5]. If you want to change behaviour change the things people interact with. If you want less racial bias have interracial teams. Bias reduces with experiences not just thoughts. 

Contextual Factors

Important: The effectiveness of UBT is influenced by contextual factors such as the company culture, leadership support, and integration with broader diversity and inclusion strategies[1][5].

In summary, the most effective UBT approaches involve a combination of the IAT, debrief, long-term training, interactive workshops, and mandatory participation (just like all other training). Additionally, the training should be part of a broader strategy to address unconscious biases and promote diversity and inclusion.

Citations:
[1] https://theewgroup.com/blog/does-unconscious-bias-training-work/
[2] https://www.cultureamp.com/blog/unconscious-bias-training
[3] https://rrapp.hks.harvard.edu/how-effective-is-unconscious-bias-training-a-comprehensive-evaluation-of-recent-assessments/
[4] https://diversity.ucsf.edu/programs-resources/training/unconscious-bias-training
[5] https://hbr.org/2021/09/unconscious-bias-training-that-works



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