Why Unconscious Bias Awareness Training is a waste of money

Ooof! That’s a provocative headline, right?!

I mean it though.

Many companies spend thousands of pounds on UB awareness training, and leave it at that, and that is, absolutely, a waste of money and time.

I believe we can quickly and easily prove biases exist in all of us. Indeed, it’s believed there are 170+ biases. We can easily use examples and tell our staff and teams about the key ones: like the danger of hiring “just like us”, (affinity bias); looking for evidence to back up the way we feel about someone and ignoring all other information (confirmation bias); feeling threatened about meeting someone from a background unknown to us (safety bias); chiming in with the groupthink, because we don’t want to be the lone voice against (conformity bias); taking decisions for those around us because we think they’re vulnerable and exclude them as a result (benevolence bias).

That’ll be £1000 consultation and training fee, please!

The point is, that didn’t take long… I think it’s straightforward to get a team to recognise we all have biases. And, there’s sod all any of us can do about having them. There is nothing I can do about the fact that it takes me 0.1 sec to gain an impression of you when we meet, or you of me. 

I heard a really useful statistic, those of us who have all our senses available, we have 11 million pieces of information to take in at any one moment, but we have only the capacity to process 40. Just 40. So, as a coping mechanism unconscious biases exist to shortcut information for us.

Unconscious Bias is a human biological need.

That doesn’t mean we should accept, as individuals or as a society, that the powerful, or those with authority, or those in a majority, should be able to disadvantage others because of the ideologies that perpetuate biases. We are still thinking, conscious beings. We have to manage this situation.

People who have done UB awareness training often are pumped up in that moment, with a sense of the injustice. Then, once the dust has settled and their back in the day job, they realise they’ve not got any of the skills, no toolkit, no plan to deal with their biases.

What we MUST do, is take responsibility for our biases and then act to mitigate them. And that is where the emphasis of training should be; not on the awareness, but on the ACTION.

Employers need to seek out training that prioritises the change, and not the awareness. That, my friends, is worth paying for.

There is a fair bit of information available on mitigations around making sure you’re not tired or hungry when shortlisting CVs, because consciously tackling unconscious bias is effortful. You may even have taken the Harvard IATs, so you know some of where your biases sit, and, therefore, when to be more alert. You may even have people who sit in your meetings and call out when the same person is being talked over or when someone’s ideas are being dismissed… in addition to actions like these, I believe the best solution is to follow the Cultural Intelligence model.

Having a real measure, a quotient, to calculate how well you do in situations with people who are different from you, will speak volumes, and help you and   your organisation to change. Check out culturalq.com. I’ll write a separate blog about this soon. The business case is clear for truly Inclusive organisations where UB is understood and managed.

Of course, if change isn’t the purpose of the training, it’s just a tick box exercise, then, go ahead, shell out, but you’re missing a massive, and amazing, opportunity.