Dear Jasmar: How should I roll out Unconscious Bias Training?
Updated: Feb 27
The company I work at is all over the news for a racially charged situation. Now our leadership wants to roll out unconscious bias training to everyone. I’ve read that it doesn’t work, but I’ve also read that it does. What should I do?
Such an important question! It’s hard to know what to do, especially when so many claims aren’t really supported by evidence. And when every other company is doing diversity training, it’s easy to copy that and think we’re making a difference. I’m so glad you’re taking a moment to think through a more impactful approach!
Let’s turn to principles from behavioural science to make sure you roll out an effective unconscious bias program for your organization.
Change behaviour, not beliefs.
BJ Fogg, behaviour change expert at Stanford and author of the best-seller, Tiny Habits, says there are three ways to change behaviour – have an epiphany, change the environment in which a decision is made, or practice tiny habits.
The first way, to change beliefs, is difficult if not impossible. Yet so much current Unconscious Bias training only tries to change beliefs and raise awareness. But awareness alone does not lead to behaviour change! We think we must change our minds first and then behaviours will follow; this is simply not true. Decades of behavioural science shows that a behaviour-first approach can solve social problems where belief-based strategies have failed.
The second, changing the environment, is so incredibly powerful. The potential for designing nudges to help people align their intentions to be objective and their actions cannot be underestimated. When the environment is predictable and structured, this is the best approach to take. But when we want people to change their behaviour in more than one situation, we can’t rely on the environment to guide us. We need to practice new behaviours so they are easier to use in any relevant scenario.
The third, practicing tiny habits, should be the foundation of your UB training. You will want to help people make small, incremental changes to break bias in their everyday behaviour. Give them the tools to build new habits specific to their work environment.
You may choose to position “Unconscious Bias Training” as “Better Decisions”, because, really, that is what we’re doing and who doesn’t want to make better decisions? The word “bias” can feel so threatening. As well, Unconscious Bias training that focuses on stereotypes can backfire, create shame and moral self-licensing, causing people to act even more biased. Stay clear of all of this by focusing on what people can DO in their real-world setting.
Given this is for the whole organization, you will likely want a cost-effective program accessed online. Here’s a three-pronged recommendation for you:
Roll out scenario-based, spaced micro-learning (because we know this works better than lecture-based learning programs that overload trainees with information all at once). The content should require the learner to respond to a real-world situation, breaking up a complex topic like unconscious bias into easy-to-manage memorable pieces and making real change possible.
Embed the new behaviours by helping people to build inclusive habits, starting small and practiced using an easy to use tech platform.
Equip your leaders with conversation guides, helping them lead team discussions to interrupt bias and creating a “middle-out” culture shift towards inclusion.
I hope this helps to give you a sense of what works and what doesn’t. The Jasmar Group is all about behaviour change done right. Reach out if you’d like to learn more!
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The Jasmar Group is a behaviour change consultancy that helps organizations build team belonging, culture, and performance.