Unconscious bias training has exploded in popularity, but what exactly is it? And is it effective? Here's what you need to know.

As anti-racism protests across the country continue to spark important conversations and much-needed action, individuals are taking a stance in all facets of their lives, including their jobs. This means corporations are being forced to consider their diversity — or lack thereof.

As a professional in the workplace, you can take important steps of your own to help promote a diverse workplace. One of the best places to start is by addressing your own unconscious biases. 

You may have heard this term from your HR department since a number of companies already host (and many more probably will now start) unconscious bias training sessions. But what's unconscious bias? What does unconscious bias training entail? And does it even work?

Here's what you need to know, plus ways you can start to address and eliminate your own unconscious biases.

What's unconscious bias training? Does it work?

First, let's define unconscious bias (also called implicit bias). Unconscious biases are the underlying stereotypes and assumptions you hold that can affect the way you act or the decisions you make. Basically, you're judging people and situations without being fully aware of it.

Ultimately, your unconscious biases can lead to discriminatory behavior based on other people's race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, name, weight, height, or religion. This can be particularly detrimental in the workplace, especially when it comes to recruiting, hiring, and promoting employees.

That's why companies implement unconscious bias training — or sometimes referred to more broadly as diversity training — in an effort to help people understand their own unconscious biases. If you partake in one of these training sessions, you can expect to learn about ways to identify and overcome your own unconscious biases by disrupting these underlying thought patterns.

Big-time corporations, including Google, Starbucks, and Facebook, have made headlines by introducing these initiatives in recent years, and other, smaller companies have followed suit.

Is unconscious bias training effective?

The idea of these workplace trainings is great, but the question remains: Does unconscious bias training work? Will it actually help solve some of the issues around the lack of diversity in so many workplaces?

There's some skepticism around the matter, with critics arguing that these trainings aren't doing much to increase workplace diversity.

The Harvard Business Review cites several studies that support this point: “One longitudinal study found that traditional diversity trainings are the least effective efforts in increasing numbers of underrepresented minorities, while experimental research has shown that presenting evidence that people commonly rely on stereotypes — information often found in diversity trainings — isn't helpful and can even condone the use of stereotypes.”

However, other studies have found these training sessions can be effective depending on the content, length, and audience. 

How to overcome unconscious bias

Although the effectiveness of these types of training varies, there are some steps you can begin implementing to help eliminate your own unconscious biases.

1. Acknowledge your unconscious biases

Awareness is key when it comes to addressing your own unconscious biases. You're already taking the first necessary steps to understand by reading up on it, but now you can take it a step further.

Harvard University has something called the Implicit Association Test (IAT) that can help you uncover your implicit and explicit stereotypes. The IAT is a series of different tests you can take online for free, and it'll help you figure out what unconscious biases you need to address.

2. Interact with other people

For many, it's easy to become exclusive, especially in the workplace: You have a group of five co-workers you eat lunch with every day, you always sit next to that one person in meetings, and you grab drinks after work with the same two team members. Chances are, those people you've gravitated toward probably look a lot like you, are similar in age to you, and have similar experiences.

It's important to acknowledge these habits — which may be unconscious biases at the core — and challenge yourself to sit next to someone new in meetings or invite a different group of people out to lunch. These small actions can help break some of your unconscious biases.

3. Make data-driven decisions

If you're on a hiring team or have a managerial position, it's important to make decisions based on data. Sure, maybe one candidate is your age and has a similar background to you, so you might be inclined to hire her, but the other candidate has five more years of valuable experience.

That's why it's important companies and teams have some sort of objective system in place when hiring, promoting, and compensating employees. Approaching these decisions with data and a standard set of guidelines can help reduce the effects of unconscious biases.

4. Hire diverse employees

One of the best ways to overcome your unconscious biases is to hire and work with people who don't look like you and don't share the same experiences as you. This will help you gain different perspectives, make fair decisions, and ultimately become a stronger team and company.

As you continue to look for positions at diverse companies, make sure your resume is highlighting your values. A free resume review is a good place to start.  

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