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  • Dr. Kim Stephens

Unconscious Bias Training Isn't A "Get Out Of Jail Free" Card

Updated: Sep 26, 2019


Someone recently sent me an article from the Huffington Post criticizing unconscious bias training as letting “white people” off the hook for their biases. The author reasoned that by telling people that their biases were unconscious, we were giving them an "out" – a way to separate themselves from the guilt or stigma associated with biases.

As a facilitator and researcher of unconscious bias, I find this line of reasoning objectionable. First of all, the research is very clear that shaming does not work to change a person’s biases. Awareness does to a certain extent. And that is what unconscious bias training does – at a minimum, it brings awareness. I agree that it’s not enough. According to the research, we need to sustain the impact of training for longer-term change, so there may be a short-term gain with most unconscious bias training. (See my blog: Why your diversity training isn’t working.)

However, to do nothing and expect to change attitudes through divisive rhetoric and shaming has been proven not to work. So why should we employ these strategies, if we really want change?

I stress during my unconscious bias workshops that everyone has bias. But I also challenge all participants. In fact, I hold them accountable because they have gone through my training. I tell participants that now that they are aware that they have these biases, it is their responsibility to work to mitigate them. I intentionally call my sessions workshops because I believe it’s only through working through our biases that we can attain change. And that is the goal of any unconscious bias training I do – change.


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