Our attention is increasingly being directed to the need for unconscious bias training. It is the latest panacea prescribed for ailing organisations seeking to correct the behaviour and decision making of individuals that reinforce the status quo.
Decisions made by well meaning individuals who live from a set of internalised beliefs informed by their personal experiences, parents, social groups, teachers, friends, peers, the media, politicians and everyone else they’ve listened to and have been influenced by.
The status quo can stymie organisational growth, diversity, opportunities and innovation. It limits an organisation’s ability to meet the challenges of today because it reinforces outdated cultural practices and norms that may have been useful in the past but limit the possibilities for tomorrow.
We all have a set of beliefs that are unconsciously held that govern our decision making and behaviours. These beliefs are reinforced over years as we are rewarded with love, acceptance and security or protected from physical or emotional harm, ridicule or stigma.
These beliefs inform decisions and judgements about
- Who we are and what we’re capable of
- Our own capacity to achieve goals and aspirations
- How we interpret the behaviour of those around us
- How we respond to criticism, conflict, love, violence, threats
- How we respond to people who are different to us
- Who we trust and who we don’t
- How we spend or save our money
- Who we regard as credible, competent leaders.
If we’re not consciously thinking about our assumptions and decisions or how they’re made, we make them by default according to an internalised belief system that may no longer be serving us or our organisations well.
When decisions based on outdated paradigms or assumptions begin to impact organisational diversity or growth, it’s time to pay attention.
So along come the unconscious bias trainers ready to train our unconscious to make unbiased decisions.
As if our unconscious can be trained.
Certainly our consciousness can be raised and we can become more intentional in our decision making and choices, but we cannot train our unconscious – because it’s not known or seen by our rational conscious mind.
I’m all for awareness raising. The more intentional we are and the more awareness we have of the factors that inform our decision making and behaviour, the better choices we can make.
Just don’t call it unconscious bias training.