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Everything You Need to Know About Implicit Bias Training at Work

Your business is only as successful as the people who keep it going. 

One way to improve your team and foster a sense of belonging is to address their implicit biases. Implicit biases are difficult to tease out, but they underscore your team's everyday interactions. 

These biases often center around issues like race, gender, sexuality. However, they can also come from less popular issues like working style, personality type, political affiliation, and family structure. When someone develops an opinion about one of these topics, either growing up or through socialization, those opinions can profoundly influence how they interact with other people.

If you're going to provide a culture of learning and a place where your team members feel safe and nourished, your team needs to identify and unravel their implicit biases. Because when people feel like they belong, they thrive. However, not all implicit bias training is created equal. To implement successful implicit bias training, you first need to recognize your team's biases. Then, set baselines, zero in on strategies that help change behaviors, and track your progress. 

The Psychology of  Implicit Bias

Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald collectively coined the term "implicit bias" in 1995. This term now describes the development of stereotypes or attitudes regarding specific characteristics or groups of people. 

Lending to the "us and them" theory describing exclusionist behaviors, implicit bias can generate inappropriate beliefs and behaviors that play out in big and small ways.

A few different forces lie behind the cultivation of an implicit bias. These forces include pattern development and social influences. Implicit biases are not ideas that people have cultivated intentionally. Instead, these biases come to people based on their socialization to particular topics and the stereotypes they interacted with growing up. 

Many people may not even recognize that they're exhibiting implicit bias due to their beliefs and behaviors' unconscious nature.

Implicit biases do not encourage people to engage in deliberately reductive thoughts or behaviors. While people that showcase implicit bias may still misbehave around marginalized groups, these behaviors are not a sign of purposeful discrimination.

The impact of implicit bias in the workplace

Implicit bias has an array of impacts on the success of your workplace. These biases influence who you hire to be a part of your team, which clients you choose to work with, and even which institutions make themselves a part of your supply chain. However, the effects of implicit bias often differ based on what those biases look like. Implicit bias means passing judgment and stereotyping others based on: 

• Race

• Gender

• Sexuality

• Cultural background

• Physical ability

• Personality

• Leadership style

And many more. When implicit biases come into the workplace, they can subtly or overtly harm those that others are unconsciously biased against. Whether it's being passed up for a promotion or talked over in a meeting, these small behaviors add up to overwhelming issues over time.

Unpacking Learned Beliefs

All of these subtopics overlap with one another. For example, specific terms and phrases become inappropriate when your team takes the needs of folks who aren't like them into consideration. 

What's more, is how bias limits your different employees' abilities. People who don't feel confident applying for promotions or speaking freely in meetings won't contribute as much as other team members. Likewise, they won't feel as appreciated or valued and are more likely to leave the company altogether.

Your office, in short, shouldn't be designed for people who fit a specific mold. To overcome implicit bias, you have to do more than recognize it. You have to dismantle it, deconstructing what you understand as "normal" and measurably changing behaviors.

How to Incorporate Implicit Bias Training into Your Learning Culture

Unlearning implicit bias is a process. It gets easier, however, when you embrace implicit bias training. Implicit bias training is the deliberate effort to identify and change your unconscious beliefs about others, something that can turn your workplace from toxic to thriving. The first part of your implicit bias training should cover methods to uncover your teams' unconscious biases.

Testing for implicit bias

Implicit bias isn't easy to uncover, especially if you don't know how to identify it. That's why several experts have established tests to determine the tendencies that may have infiltrated your business. These tests include but are not limited to:

The Implicit Association Test

For a more traditional approach to testing, you and your team can participate in an Implicit Association Test (IAT). This test does not require you to fill out paperwork. Instead, it makes you assess your associations with particular words and phrases. 

Tests like this may include identifying "feminine" and "masculine" words on a computer or assessing a person's reaction time when presented with certain biases.

Harvard University has made its IAT test available to the broader public. You can request that your employees take it on their own time or set aside time during the workday for such testing. 

Make sure your team understands that their results do not make accusations of prejudice. Instead, the results of an IAT test let you know what kind of biases you're contending with and how they may impact the way your team operates.

Label games

While implicit biases are unconscious, they can still come with labels. You can take advantage of this association with something known as a label game.

During a team-building workshop, have an instructor divide your office not by name, age, race, or gender but rather with labels of various shapes. Once everyone has a label, an instructor can encourage your office to form groups. Do not provide any instructions on what kind of groups your office should develop.

Instead, you'll most often find that people with the same labels group together. This process, referred to as affinity bias, brings attention to the "us and them" mindset that otherwise undetected features can lead to in the workplace.

The exercises mentioned above can help you identify your beliefs that may be ingrained and biased. Transforming those beliefs, however, is an entirely different process. Once you've become aware of your personal and team biases, you can begin the work to unravel and change your behaviors.

Methods for Removing Implicit Bias Through Training

Not all implicit bias training is created equal. When done incorrectly, implicit bias training can do more harm than good. So how can you create implicit bias training that changes biased thoughts and behaviors? 

To integrate implicit bias training exercises into your business, you can:

Ask team members to examine their assumptions

If you want your team to challenge their implicit biases, you must encourage them to think critically about their day-to-day actions. Changing your behaviors involves challenging your thinking. This evaluation may mean stepping back from your management process and assessing each of your team's steps to get their job done. It also means encouraging team members to constantly ask themselves, "why do I think that?" when making judgment calls about colleagues. It may also mean calling in an expert to give you feedback on how your business operates.

You may need to introduce the idea of implicit bias to your team. You can do this through seminars and workshops led by subject matter experts. However, given the delicate nature of the subject, it's probably not a good idea to take this on yourself unless you've formally learned how to lead this type of training. 

A professional speaker or team-building thought leader could help everyone understand the nuances of implicit bias and ways to work said biases out of their behavior. The more steps your team can take in this direction, the healthier and more stable your business will be.

Engage objective experts

You may have experts come into your business to assess your diversity and inclusion practices. However, if you've gotten used to working with the same teams, the feedback you get on your company's composition may no longer be helpful. 

If you want to put implicit bias training in the workplace to good use, seek out the opinions of people who aren't like you. In other words, diversify your board of peers. 

When representatives from outside of your wheelhouse offer their perspective on your corporate makeup, hiring processes, and treatment of employee issues, you can more effectively create a workplace that's welcoming and productive for everyone.

Use data and metrics to track your progress

If you're concerned about how much progress you're making regarding changing behaviors, it's important to use metrics to make data-driven decisions. If you set measurable goals in certain areas, make sure you establish a baseline. Then, you'll know how much the data has changed over time. Although data has its drawbacks, using data to drive change can help keep the process relatively objective. Because of this, it's crucial to identify qualitative and quantitative markers of progress.  

Commit to improvement in the long term

No one can overcome implicit bias in a day or two. Unlearning old habits takes a significant amount of time. Don't feel disappointed, then, if you feel yourself falling into old habits or if your team seems to take a fair amount of time to change. Instead, embrace patience. Focus on little goals and strive to change your business in increments. 

In some ways, it's better to think about implicit bias training as a long-term educational process that you and your teams can continue to hone over time to create a positively impactful culture and remove barriers to access. 

An environment where team members feel safe, valued, and rewarded is one where they'll want to stay, grow, and contribute to shared successes. If team members feel outcast, isolated, or ostracized, especially in a remote or virtual environment, they'll disengage with their work and be more likely to leave the company. When talent goes in droves due to an intolerant culture, those that remain often perpetuate that culture and continue to inadvertently or overtly harm others in an echo chamber until it becomes an entirely toxic environment. 

Encouraging continued learning and open-mindedness can help implicit bias training be more than a checkbox but a crucial strategy for personal and professional development.

Learning platforms can make it easier for your teams to address their implicit biases. If you want to integrate intentional implicit bias training exercises into your business, find a platform that aims to help your team learn about implicit biases, track their engagement with bias workshops, and engage with your company's overall goals. Are you ready to write implicit bias out of your business strategy? 

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