Unconscious Bias Training: Do you want to check your awareness of the evidence?

- posted in articles


A little while ago some colleagues and I did a piece for HR Magazine on how apply an evidence-based practice (EBP) approach to diversity and inclusion. One reason we wanted to write about EBP in this particular field is because the issues are so important and also because its growth and increasing prominence have do not seem to have produced improved outcomes. It sometimes feels as though we’re actually going backwards if the data that appear in the public domain about discrimination and the progress of disadvantaged groups are reliable.

One current indicator of the increasing prominence of D&I initiatives is the use of Unconscious Bias Training (UBT) which, in a short space of time, has become a widely-used organizational practice. The underlying idea is straightforward and it goes like this:

  • We’re all biased - and some of that bias is unconscious
  • Unconscious bias affects our behaviour and can cause discrimination
  • Reducing unconscious bias will therefore change our behaviour and so reduce discrimination

The logic is certainly plausible. But does UBT work? Does it actually reduce levels of unconscious bias to a practically significant extent? And, if it does, do these reductions in unconscious bias change the behaviour of those who’ve received UBT in ways that reduce discrimination?

Good questions. Essential questions. My guess (or perhaps hope) is that everyone who does UBT or provides it for employees believes that the answers to both these questions is, broadly, “yes”: Otherwise, why are you doing it? Assuming you’re not already familiar with the scientific evidence, what do you think the evidence shows? Does it show that UBT works?

In the case of UBT, unlike many other organizational practices, we are lucky enough to have not one but two systematic reviews of the scientific evidence. The first, Unconscious bias training: an assessment of the evidence for effectiveness was published in 2018 by the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission and in 2019 the second, Interventions designed to reduce implicit prejudices and implicit stereotypes in real world contexts: A systematic review appeared in BMC Psychology.

Both reviews are fairly straightforward, both have clear summaries and both discuss implications for practice. And, perhaps not surprisingly, both tell a similar story. To skim read their summaries and implications for practice would take, I reckon, around fifteen minutes.

So here’s a suggestion. If you don’t mind. If you’re any way involved with providing UBT why not have a go at this little activity? Do it on your own or even better with your team (if you have one).

1. Write down what you think the scientific evidence suggests are the answers to these questions

  • Question 1: Does UBT reduce levels of unconscious bias to a practically significant extent?
  • Question 2: If it does, do these reductions in unconscious bias change the behaviour of those who’ve received UBT in ways that reduce discrimination?

2. Skim read the summaries and implications for practice sections of both systematic reviews to identify the answers to the same questions

  • Question 1: Does UBT reduce levels of unconscious bias to a practically significant extent?
  • Question 2: If it does, do these reductions in unconscious bias change the behaviour of those who’ve received UBT in ways that reduce discrimination?

3. How are the answers you gave similar or different to the answers given in the systematic reviews?

So my next question for you is this: Has going through this activity made you think any differently about your UBT practice? My own (probably consciously biased) view is that it probably has.


Do you have any thoughts, observations or questions on the ideas shared here? Please use these links and join the conversation...

     
 Articles

People analytics: It’s something, but it’s not enough

Are people really, truly, honestly, definitely doing Evidence-Based Practice (EBP) in their work?

12 June 2019

Jerry Ratcliffe - Reducing Crime Podcast on Soundcloud

Conversation about Policing, EBP, good intentions and much more... (36 mins)

12 June 2019

Evidence-based practice to make better decisions

International Humanistic Management Association - Lunch & Learn

22 March 2019

Briner: Beware the "corporate bullshit"

By Rachel Sharp - Interview with Rob Briner in HR Magazine

20 April 2018

Paul Gibbons Think Bigger Think Better Podcast

What is Evidence-Based Management? (65 mins)

06 April 2018

Future for Work Institute 2018

Discussing evidence-based management - Barcelona, Spain

06 March 2018

An Evidence-Based approach to diversity and inclusion

By Doyin Atewologun, Rob Briner and Tinu Cornish in HR Magazine

26 June 2017

Evidence-based management in your day to day work - Rob Briner

Center for Evidence Based Management (CEBMa)

05 March 2017

What's been happening to evidence-based practice?

On a scale of zero (absolutely nothing) to 10 (HR has been revolutionised), I’d give it a three

15 February 2017

HR Norge 2016 HR Forum

Summarizing principles of Evidence-Based HR - Oslo, Norway

14 September 2016

The Role of Scientific Findings in Evidence-Based HR

CEBMa (Centre for Evidence Based Management)

01 March 2016

What's the evidence for... emotional intelligence?

Evidence-based HR isn't stealing anyone's thunder, it's about making the profession more effective

18 November 2015

What's the evidence for... neuro-linguistic programming?

By Rob Briner for HR Magazine

29 September 2015

Professor Rob Briner 'Why isn't organizational psychology more evidence based'

Professor Rob Briner's keynote at the BPS DOP annual conference in Glasgow January 2015.

24 June 2015

Rob Briner: five things HR needs to stop doing

By Rob Briner for HR Magazine

23 June 2015

What's the evidence for... performance management?

By Rob Briner in HR Magazine

27 May 2015

What's the evidence for... talent management?

By Rob Briner in HR Magazine

18 March 2015

What's the evidence for... Evidence-based HR?

By Rob Briner for HR Magazine

14 January 2015

Don't believe the hype of employee engagement

By Rob Briner for HR Magazine

25 July 2014