I am an optimist. And because I am, I believe that implicit bias (commonly known as unconscious bias) is an area where, if people made a conscious and concerted personal effort to make a few small changes, the repercussions and impact would be amazing.

So much has already been written about implicit bias, and many organisations now sponsor unconscious bias training, but I have a few concerns about some of the impact.

Firstly, agreed we all have unconscious biases, the automatic mental shortcuts that helps us make sense of the millions of bits of information we encounter daily and help us to navigate the complexity of daily life. However, learning about ‘unconscious bias’ in a workshop often lets us of the hook. I have heard people discussing the topic and regularly saying, “thank goodness it’s not my fault”. This is not the point of raising awareness. Being consciously unconscious should force us to work harder to raise our biases to the surface and deal with them. Hence my preference for the term implicit bias.

What makes the difference is how we as individuals choose to invest our time and effort in challenging ourselves and our attitudes.

Secondly, with the best will in the world, a few hours online training or a one-day workshop is not going to eliminate implicit bias. In fact, research shows that such training only has a very weak and short-term positive effect. What makes the difference is how we as individuals choose to invest our time and effort in challenging ourselves and our attitudes.

So, what we need are honest conversations about the pervasiveness of implicit bias which cannot be achieved in a one -off event. Implicit bias is not just about recruitment practices or being attracted to people who are like us. It is about every facet of organisational life. It explains enduring issues such as the gender pay gap, our views of men and women in leadership positions, stuck culture change initiatives, unquestioned pervasive working practices and the leadership teams and board rooms that simply do not reflect their employees or their customers.

What we want is to demystify and shatter deeply entrenched mindsets so that we can have more thoughtful decision making

What we want is to demystify and shatter deeply entrenched mindsets so that we can have more thoughtful decision making. To achieve this, we need to be have open environments where we can have challenging but supportive discussions. Without this, how can we be creative, flexible and innovative? In the absence of these discussion we continue to undermine our ability to adapt to changing situations and to respond openly and inclusively to both our people and our customers.

 What can we do?

  • Be prepared to have a more thorough approach with honest and robust discussions to help us to slow down and interrogate more closely the way we make decisions and stop us from jumping to conclusions.
  • Not be afraid to use expert facilitation to challenge and support the way we think. It’s important to take time to reflect deeply on where our views come from and analyse their accuracy. Its ok to acknowledge that we need help to do this.
  • Thoroughly investigate practical actions that can be taken by individuals, teams and leaders
  • Take clear actions to tackle barriers to innovation and cultural change at all levels in an organisation

If you are interested in discussing this further, please connect with me, [email protected] or take a look at our website, www.claridade.com

Lubna Haq

Lubna Haq

Lubna is an experienced business leader. Most recently she worked as a partner in a global company responsible for designing and introducing leadership programmes targeted at middle managers.

Claridade are now ILM accredited for our management development programmes