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Unconscious Bias, Diversity and Inclusion: Is Your Trainer Trained?




The focus on diversity and inclusion in corporate America has evolved tenfold in a matter of months, in response to a growing national awareness for better race and gender equality.

Corporate America is in the hot seat, with employees, partners, and customers, asking—how will you create a more equitable workplace and be part of the movement, not the moment?

According to Glassdoor, diversity and inclusion job postings rose 50 percent in June, the largest percentage increase over a four-week period since January 2016. While efforts to create workplaces that are more racially diverse and embracing of all persons are on the rise, through the creation of new roles or hiring practice revamps, there is still a great need for DEI training that doesn't just check a box, but goes deep with real analysis and training for unconscious bias.

Understanding the Prevalence

Understanding the prevalence of unconscious bias within your organization is a critical first step in creating more fair, diverse, and inclusive workplaces for all employees. Everyone has biases, which does not make them bad people, but it does make every workplace different regarding the area of bias training it may need.
With this in mind, it is crucial for organizations to have a baseline assessment of where their employees may stand and get information about themselves. Data can drive organizational change, but having the ability to take a deeper dive into data-based insights, gives leaders the actionable information needed to take a more prescriptive approach to understanding and mitigating bias in their organization, and tailor training accordingly.

"Understanding the baseline is an important first step to achieving a company's desired diversity and inclusion goals," says Michele Ruiz, BiasSync co-founder, and CEO. "BiasSync conducts initial assessments and provides organizational leaders with a visual dashboard that provides a deeper look at the levels of bias by groupings within the organization. And we can provide data in any grouping. If a corporation wants to look at biases by the level of employees or geography, we can provide that view."

Once an organization's baseline has been assessed and has insights for bias training needs, including key challenges, data, and measurements against objectives, it can start finding a bias training partner that can best align and tailor their programs to go deep into the areas needed in the organization.

One Size Does Not Fit All

Before hiring a DEI partner, you will first have to ask some critical questions. How do I find an expert that focuses on unconscious bias training? What qualifies a trainer? Do they address diversity and inclusion for most of their work and merely skim unconscious bias? Do they frequently update their trainings, or use the same approach for each company? Do they have an impactful, immersive training methodology or is it more lecture like? Do they have a blame-focused approach in their content (which causes reactants) or do they focus on making sure all races, ethnicities and genders feel part of the inclusiveness approach? All of these questions are relevant and important.

Selecting the right trainer is critical to unconscious bias training. Research shows improper training can be ineffective, at best, and harm the company, at worst. But how does a company find a certified unconscious bias trainer when no accredited process exists? The first step is understanding that bias training is a tactic within a broader strategy to address inclusivity organization-wide.

"What really matters here is experience and flexibility," says Dr. Bentley Gibson, associate Professor in Psychology. "Has the trainer been doing this for a long time? Do they understand the needs of individual companies? Understanding what that trainer brings to the table, and its match with your organization's needs is important."

It is important organizations are aware of the ineffectiveness of one-size-fits-all DEI approaches, which do not strike at the heart of bias and spark real change.

This type of training proved to be the least effective in a study Harvard University conducted in 2010, which explored the impact of diversity training in corporate America. Interestingly, the study results still resonate a decade later. What's more, instructor-led training—or improper training—can present real HR liabilities.

"Trainers who approach each company with the same preset, generic presentation fail to generate real dialogue," says Dr. Atira Charles, unconscious bias expert. "They miss an opportunity to engage your employees truly and only serve to help companies check off a list of compliance measures rather than raise any actual awareness."

Selecting a Trainer

Poorly delivered training will not have the lasting impact you are looking for, nor will it lead to a greater understanding of unconscious bias within the broader inclusion and diversity context. A poorly trained trainer will likely negatively influence participant engagement, resulting in less discussion and overall interest. Professional unconscious bias trainers require adult learning's soft skills; they need to understand how organizational culture comes into play when making changes or introducing something new and keeping learners engaged. So, what should you look for in an unconscious bias trainer?

Successful unconscious bias training will depend to a large degree on the presenter. A thorough vetting of trainers will do you an excellent service in the long run. When vetting, you should look for deep experience in diversity issues in general and unconscious bias, in particular. Look closely at their expertise in communicating their understanding of unconscious bias and how it plays out in the workplace. Equally important is finding someone who understands and can adapt to your particular work environment or culture and adapt the curriculum accordingly.

Best Practices

Training related to systems, procedures, and legal requirements often lend themselves better to a "train-the-trainer" approach. However, this risks diminishing the impact of direct engagement of employees and diluting mitigation efforts because of what may get lost in translation. Trickle-down training often does not work.

Similarly, it is vital to seek properly trained experts. When focused on transforming thoughts and behaviors, using experts (e.g., organizational behavior, social psychologists, etc.) is essential who are adequately trained to de-brief and handle the content from trainees, such as comments, feedback, and employee reactions. Otherwise, there can be an increased risk of issues, including HR complaints, pushback, and damaged work relationships, which can hinder the initiative.

It is also important to partner with a trainer that is full-scale, from assessment to training. Also, using co-training for specific topic areas mitigates the impact of one person’s subjectivity seeping into the training to maintain objectivity and hold each other accountable.

Seven Missteps

While DEI training can be broad, unconscious bias is a specific area of expertise and skill. With this in mind, there are common pitfalls and unintended consequences to avoid when hiring a trainer:

  1. Training methods – research shows that employee-trainers often do not have the depth of knowledge to expound beyond the PowerPoint deck, and usually vary in presentation skills, which can affect efficacy. Be mindful of trainers that use basic resources like power point presentations or infographics, and don’t dig deeper in a customized way, as training with an expert would do.
  2. Inconsistency in content and duration – is a short, intensive workshop as effective as a half-or full-day workshop—or even a weekend retreat? Also, beware of presentations with limited scope or an inconsistent format. Does the workshop or presentation skim the surface in a considerably narrower course than more in-depth training?
  3. Poor presentation skills – does the trainer lack an engaging style or the presence to capture employees' attention and imagination? Equally important, is the trainer sufficiently prepared? Does s/he/they keep employees at the moment without stumbling or losing their place in the presentation?
  4. Relevance – is the training relevant to your employees? Can they relate to examples and illustrations?
  5. Unaware of own biases – trainers may favor certain employees over others without realizing it, creating an imbalance in participation and engagement. Additionally, trainers may lack the experience or foundational work to conduct proper bias coaching.
  6. Not flexible – do they put themselves in the trainees' shoes? Trainers who offer a prepared, rote presentation with a fixed, inflexible style expect trainees to adjust to them, rather than the reverse. Similarly, is the course itself too prescriptive? Is it flexible enough to adapt to a changing social/work environment?
  7. Follow-up – do they offer to follow up as part of their offering? Trainers who do not check in with clients after a session can result in new skills and ideas being lost within a year. Reinforcement of training overtime have proven to be more effective, than one-off events or micro-learnings, which have shown not to be.

BiasSync Difference

Unconscious bias training is not about changing how people think. It is about changing their perception—which is much more complicated—and starting the work of undoing a lifetime's worth of hard-wiring. It requires not only skill and experience, but a scientific approach.

At BiasSync, we believe every organization needs a specific, personalized approach to creating more equitable workplaces. Our approach is unique, and unlike any other, in that, we harness the power of science to create a baseline that informs how your organization stacks up when it comes to bias, and guides on where the real work needs to happen.

The baseline is critical to our work. It ensures training starts from an informed place rooted in data, and actively looks to assess and measure against training efforts—which is critical given, not only an organization's desire to create more inclusive workplaces, but the accountability of staff, customers, and partners now demand.

BiasSync experts provide best-practice guidance to its clients to avoid common challenges, pitfalls, and ineffectiveness related to "train-the-trainer" or live trainings for DEI and unconscious bias work, so our clients achieve their outcomes. Based on research and the input of our team of social psychologists and organizational behavior experts, inherent pitfalls organizations should be aware of include:

• Trainer assignment based on role/title in the organization can lead to inconsistency in the training delivery based on a trainer's alignment with the organization's goals pertaining to the DEI priorities

• Assigned trainers (often managers, leaders) have tendencies to prioritize their role, so they can have a tinge of self-interest

• Research shows race and gender of the person doing the training can make a difference and impact whether or not individuals relate and learn

• Interpersonal variables of the trainer, which results in trainee's perception of the trainer's delivery skills, personality, depth of knowledge, experience, and cultural competency

• Power and privilege associated with the trainer - trainees may not feel comfortable sharing, disclosing what they have observed or experienced, or even share ideas with leaders or people they have worked with because of power

Creating a fair and respectful workplace requires access to the right tools to give employers an accurate, comprehensive, and quantitative view of bias and associated personality measures across the organization. This is the starting point toward developing the assets to mitigate bias and its impact in your workplace.

By taking the time, consideration, and care, it's possible to choose the most qualified expert that can use these tools and effectively apply them to your organization. Your organization can chart a course for success in creating the diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplace your employees want and deserve.

BiasSync. Our purpose is to create more fair and respectful workplaces. For more information on BiasSync – training, unconscious bias assessments and measurements - visit:

Updated: 10/2020

Not just diversity. Inclusion.

Diversity is not just about numbers. It’s about people’s experiences in the workplace. If you’re ready to understand how bias impacts your company—with data to make effective changes, contact us now.