Can unconscious bias training be more detrimental than helpful?

Is your company jumping on the unconscious bias bandwagon?  If so, great!  However, did you know that some studies indicate that implementing this training may actually cause more harm than good? How do you know what training methods will be most effective for your learners and what is the research behind it?

Outdated training has negative ramifications

Envision a training event where your learners are told they are biased in their treatment of others, are misogynist or racist. This may make an individual defensive. Rightfully so, this training approach has proven more harmful than effective and quickly abandoned.

Everyone stereotypes- is that the answer?

Academics and trainers today often send a different message: stereotyping others isn’t bad, but it is universal and something we must all aim to resist together.

However, a recent study “Condoning stereotyping? How awareness of stereotyping prevalence impacts expression of stereotypes”(1) from researchers Michelle Duguid and Melissa Thomas-Hunt argues that this “everyone stereotypes” message may actually be encouraging bias-based activity! Diguid and Thomas-Hunt theorize that the reason the “everyone stereotypes” message goes wrong is found in a cornerstone of social psychology: we are more inclined to do something if others in our group are doing it too. This means unspoken biases firm up when we believe them to be universal, and we may react to counter-examples with even greater hostility.

When the unconscious bias curricula available to trainers and learners until this point in time follows the “everyone stereotypes” model, should you be concerned? Maybe. Further studies corroborate Duguid and Thomas-Hunt’s findings need to be done before a warning siren goes off.  But for now, be aware that there are some legitimate red flags.

A new methodology

Fortunately, as research has matured, so has the approach to unconscious bias training and a third methodology is now available that flips understanding unconscious bias on its head.  Instead of “everyone stereotypes – it is ok – you just have to resist your subconscious urges,” this new model allows the learner to personally explore their own unconscious biases.  Learners are put into experiential video scenarios, assume the roles of playable characters, and make decisions as these characters.  Their decisions lead to differing real-world consequences – followed by a personal exploration of why learners made the choices they did.

This latest methodology uncovers unconscious bias at a personal level, creating internal self-reflection and eliminating the subconscious ‘follow the crowd’ inclinations brought to light by this study.

You can find training courses like these from OpenSesame publishers, such as this unconscious bias training course by WILL Interactive. If you are seeking better ways to address unconscious bias training, this training will make you glad that you decided to lead rather than just follow the crowd.

For more information please contact OpenSesame at