The workshop was drawing to a close and we had time for one final contribution from the group. “I’m not sure I’m the best person to question my own bias”, ventured the quiet participant who had been playing close attention throughout. I raised an eyebrow and invited him to say some more. He flushed slightly as he went on to wonder, as we are all biased how can we possibly be best-placed to notice those times and places when our own decisions are suspect or our assumptions fundamentally flawed?
I could identify with the question, and it was one that absorbed me when I first started to train the topic several years ago. As soon as we are made aware of unconscious bias, we are exposed in a way that there’s no putting the lid back on. Yet, because of the unconscious nature of much of our bias, there’s a fair chance that others will notice it, or rather its effects, before we do. My personal fear was about being ‘called out’ in a training session – because my own unconscious biases may inadvertently leak out and be evident from my behaviour.
The participant seemed reassured when I explained that the expectation from the training is NOT to become ‘bias-free’. Rather, we need to commit to a process of raising self-awareness of our own biases, so we can take steps to manage the effects on our behaviour. This in turn helps us to make more robust decisions, build better relationships and generally improve the way we do business.
Many of our clients are rolling out unconscious bias awareness training across the business to help create a more inclusive culture and generate associated benefits. This is a big ask. Changing the culture takes time and demands commitment from each and every individual to make a personal shift and adapt the way they behave. Whilst everyone has a responsibility to do this for themselves, they’re going to need support along the way.
So, whilst our participant at the beginning needs to take personal responsibility to minimise bias for himself, he certainly doesn’t have to do it alone.