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Women in STEM Q2 2022

Stronger action is required when tackling unconscious bias

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Nicola Brittain

Chief Editor, WISE

Recognising unconscious bias is not enough to create an inclusive workforce. Training must be combined with practical actions to help create lasting change.

Most organisations working on diversity and inclusion issues (D&I) will be familiar with unconscious bias training and will have attended courses delving into why they view the world as they do. The aim is laudable – to create a more welcoming working environment leading to business benefits such as increased innovation, productivity and creativity.  

A tick box exercise

However, such training has come in for (arguably) valid criticism. It can be regarded a tick box exercise that has little effect; people object to being ‘lectured to’ around acceptable behaviour and training can be counterproductive when not handled sensitively. Similarly, we all know that behavioural change happens over years, so it is unlikely that a morning’s training session will have much long-term impact.

So, then, what should we be doing? I believe we need to recognise that unconscious bias training needs to be conducted sensitively. We also need to recognise that it is just one step towards achieving the right results. For WISE, this will be better gender balance in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Training should be used to raise awareness of the role many of us play, albeit unwittingly, in perpetuating stereotypes. But, and this is key, it should be supplemented by action.

Creating conscious inclusion    

Unconscious bias training combined with targeted practical action will lead to a state we like to call ‘conscious inclusion’. People operating from this position will be aware of their preconceptions and biases but will be acting to create inclusive change to address them. In the best case, this will lead to productive, motivated staff that feel psychologically secure at work because they feel fully accepted by colleagues and senior leaders.

Training should be used to raise awareness of the role many of us play, albeit unwittingly, in perpetuating stereotypes.

Much of the work we do at WISE aims to give practical tips and recommendations that will lead to this position of ‘conscious inclusion’. Our flagship WISE Ten Steps framework, which helps employers recruit, retain and progress women and other people with protected characteristics in STEM, comes complete with recommended actions to ensure organisations improve their diagnostic score relative to their peers.

Actions might include reverse mentoring; showcasing role models; creating more allies within middle management; or ensuring that senior leaders work closely with employee resource networks.

For more information on the WISE Ten Steps or other products and service (including WISE unconscious bias training) contact Deborah Kelly, Business Relationship Manager at [email protected]

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