Do Employees Need Unconscious Bias Training? 6 HR Leaders Weigh In.

November 17, 2020

As racial injustice in the workplace continues to come to light, it’s more important than ever to implement strategies that eliminate biases and drive meaningful change. 

While unconscious bias training is not a magical solution to defeating injustice, it’s a great place to start, whether it’s taking a holistic approach, putting community first, creating a sense of belonging or encouraging accountability. 

In order to dig a bit deeper into the strategies for tackling unconscious bias in the workplace, Built In Boston asked leaders across six local companies to sum up their respective approach in a single phrase — and then explain how their organization implements it in order to create a more inclusive and equitable environment for all. 

 

Sarah Camacho, Vice President of People Operations

 

‘Community first, self second’

“At Thought Industries, one of our core values is humility, meaning community first, self second. 

In order to live those core values, it is important for us to better understand each other. Hence, unconscious bias training is an essential tool for creating a more inclusive workforce. More importantly, it is an essential element in helping to improve our organizational culture. We cannot afford to exclude deepening our understanding about unconscious bias because the consequences can be quite harmful. 

Unlike conscious bias, people may operate in hurtful ways not realizing where their own biases exist and operate against the culture and values that we are trying to cultivate in our work. If we are creating truly ethical and fair organizations, we must understand and address the root causes of this issue. Bringing them to light with training and constructive dialogue helps us not only grow as individuals but as a community with the common goal of respect for one another.”

Sarah Camacho is VP of People Operations at Thought Industries, a customer education technology company.

 

Ellie Bohjalian, Recruiter

 

A path toward lasting changes

“Companies need to consider how to be more inclusive and equitable in tangible, sustainable ways. Employees deserve a workplace that truly understands and embraces these pillars and leaders who are willing to advocate for and invest in making changes that aren’t short-lived. 

Unconscious bias training can be a great starting point for companies to educate and support their employees, but whether this training adds value depends on:

1. Setting clear goals and metrics for the training. 

2. The quality of the training materials and overall experience.

3. If and how learnings are reinforced post-training.

4. Subsequent efforts within the organization to promote DEI in tandem with the training. 

Unconscious bias training alone will have limited impact or meaning to employees without a more robust plan. Companies need to illustrate how they are actively making holistic improvements in addition to this training to show employees it’s about more than simply checking an item off of a to-do list. That said, when well-executed and complementary to an organization’s overall DEI goals and planned actions, unconscious bias training can be a worthwhile way to start on a path toward lasting changes.”

Ellie Bohjalian is a recruiter at Fareharbor, a tour and activity reservation platform. 

 

Jen Chandler-Adesegun, People Operations Manager

 

A small part of a larger strategy 

“I believe companies need unconscious bias training, but it’s not the be-all and end-all.

It plays an important role in DEI strategy but it’s often treated as just a box to check off. Some have gone as far as to say that unconscious bias training shouldn’t be done at all and that it actually causes more harm. I don’t fall on that extreme end.

Unconscious bias training is a great tool when tackling the ‘education’ or ‘awareness’ bucket of a DEI strategy. It helps to uncover biases that each of us holds and makes us aware of the fact that everyone has biases. It can be hard to change behavior if you’re not sure what exactly it is you’re trying to change.

For example, we conduct unconscious bias training here at Ellevation because we recognize that our biases can detrimentally impact our conversations surrounding recruitment, performance and compensation. Though unconscious bias training is one of many valuable tools in the DEI strategy toolbox, it does have its limitations so efficiency is best maximized if used in combination with others. Unconscious bias training alone won’t solve any major issues in diversity, equity, inclusion or belonging at your organization. It can be difficult to measure the ROI, drive action and impact the larger systems at hand. Therefore, I believe DEI strategy shouldn’t start or stop at unconscious bias training.”

Jen Chandler-Adesegun is the people operations manager at Ellevation Education, a software company that helps English language learners.  

 

Caitlyn Rhodes, Talent Acquisition Business Partner II & DEI Program Manager

 

A sense of belonging 

“The nature of unconscious and implicit bias is that it is beyond awareness and everyone has it, which makes it increasingly dangerous. Some of the dangers in a work setting include unfair treatment and review of candidates, an employee being passed over for an opportunity or being ignored in a group meeting. 

By educating yourself and your workforce in an effort to increase awareness and ultimately alleviate bias, it allows your entire employee population to benefit. At Bullhorn, our commitment to our employees is to foster a sense of belonging and a voice that is heard, which is why we consider education around unconscious bias to be a fundamental part of our inclusion efforts.” 

Caitlyn Rhodes is a talent acquisition business partner and DEI program manager at Bullhorn, which provides software solutions to the staffing industry. 

 

Amy Dwyer, Senior HR Director

 

Recognition, awareness and accountability 

“Unconscious bias training is crucial when implementing diversity and inclusion programs within an organization. We all form social stereotypes about people that are outside of our conscious awareness. These biases can have a negative impact on company culture and recruiting efforts. Providing training helps us to be more aware of our biases and overcome barriers to equal opportunities. Recognition, awareness and accountability are the first steps in fostering a culture that welcomes all and allows individuals to bring their true self to the office.” 

Amy Dwyer is the senior HR director at 3Play Media, a software company that provides closed captioning & video accessibility services.

 

Michael Brown, VP of People

 

A holistic approach 

“We believe that embracing diversity, equity and belonging supports our mission by intentionally creating space for everyone to think big, develop and thrive. As part of Cogo Labs’ holistic approach to diversity, equity and belonging, and preventing or perpetuating any discrimination or harassment, we have chosen to conduct unconscious and implicit bias training coupled with inclusive and structured interview training.

While our training is not a magic solution to everything, it’s a great start to encourage our employees to look inward at their own biases (yes, we all have them) and help find ways to put them in check. We call out ‘bias-checks’ throughout the training to ensure our team can recognize their hidden biases and microaggressions in their daily decision-making, assumptions and team interactions. Our goal is to create an inclusive culture where our diverse team is encouraged to bring their whole self to work, enabling them to create maximum impact on the company.”

Michael Brown is VP of People at Cogo Labs, which is a startup accelerator based in Kendall Square, Cambridge.

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