Is Unconscious Bias Training Enough?

Posted May 18, 2018 by Mary McGinley

Over the past few months, a laser-sharp focus has been shone on unconscious bias both in the workplace and in society as a whole. With the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements and recent incidents in the news, many companies are trying to come to grips with what workplace bias and discrimination are by offering training in that area.

According to a recent article appearing on the HR Dive website by regular feature writer Riia O’Donnell, on May 29th, Starbucks plans to close all the more than 8,000 locations of its stores in order to conduct racial sensitivity training. This comes after an incident involving a Starbucks location in Philadelphia where a Starbuck’s manager called police on two black men for trespassing who were simply waiting to meet someone who eventually arrived. Starbuck’s CEO, Kevin Johnson, referred to the incident as being “reprehensible. The manager who called police in the incident is no longer employed at that store.

Training Against Biases in the Workplace

In short, ‘bias’, whether subtle or overt, boils down to discrimination. Directly confronted, discrimination is against the law. If a worker or customer is able to prove a case of discrimination, as was blatantly displayed in the case involving Starbucks, a company may find itself in court.

While all of us do have unconscious biases of our own and can lead to making pre-judgments according to those biases, 67% of workers looking for a job stated according to a survey that they wanted to be a part of work teams that were more diverse. Companies and HR professionals need to pay attention to this trend and hire accordingly.

However, even job descriptions or lists of qualifications or associations of potential candidates can lend themselves toward the problem of unconscious bias. Hiring managers and CEO’s may decide on a candidate who has a more Anglo-sounding first and last name, attended the same college or is a part of an organization that the candidate is a part of. Diversity training, when fully integrated into not only a company’s onboarding process but also integrated into the company’s culture and customer service approach can begin to change diversity policies across the board.