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What training/conversation tools have you used to create self-awareness about gender or racial bias?

Hi people geeks,

I’ve been made aware of some blind spots regarding statements that are made by team members that are hurtful to specific genders/races, and want to approach the issue in a way that creates awareness and action. Saying “don’t say that again” only goes so far and leaves the door open for plenty of other things to be said.

I’ve done work on my own through books/workbooks/journaling, but team conversations on this topic in the work environment are an area where I have minimal experience. Even then, it was more preventative and reflective. I’d like to do some group training to dismantle bias and create accountability and inclusion. Keeping it in-house would be ideal, but I am also open to bringing in someone who is experienced in facilitation with diversity and inclusion training.

What have you seen/done that worked well for your teams?

I love the level of self-awareness you expressed here. It is always a difficult topic because workplaces bring together people with a wide variety of cultural norms. I used to work in the video games industry, in the people team and swearing was considered very normal. It took me a while to shake that off when I moved on.

One of the challenges here is that there is little evidence that anti-bias training is effective. Part of the reason being that culture change needs support from multiple-dimensions.

Since I left my people team role, I focus on facilitation almost entirely now. My goal is to make ‘difficult conversations’ more normalized. I use a bunch of tools from visual facilitation to improvisation and mindfulness. I also teach people facilitation skills so that when challenges like this come up again (which they certainly will), they have the tools they need. We use our ‘difficult conversations’ framework:

And here’s the Google Re:Work Unconscious Bias info, in case you’d like to explore that:


Hey Hannah!

This is a topic that I’ve thought about a TON since I built our anti-bias trainings at Peoplism (we’re a D&I+ consulting firm). There are a number of things that are important for a good anti-bias training, but here (in my opinion) are the top ones…

  1. As Rach pointed out above, there is little evidence bias trainings are effective. Actually, I’d clarify this a bit saying there is little evidence unconscious bias trainings are effective. Anti-bias trainings are something else completely. But one thing that’s really confusing is that these terms (unconscious bias and anti-bias) are used interchangeably, when in fact they are very different. An unconscious bias training raises awareness that bias exists (like the Google and Facebook training). An anti-bias training actually changes people’s biases. If you care about impact, you want to be building an anti-bias training, rather than an unconscious bias training.
  1. Knowing you want to actually change people’s biases, it’s important to illuminate 1, Why we have biases in the first place (no, not our brain structures, but the harmful cultural messages around gender, race/ethnicity, etc.) And 2, the fact that these cultural ideas (i.e. stereotypes/biases) aren’t true. Because the sad truth is, many of us (unless we’re told otherwise) think there is some truth in our stereotypes, which is why raising awareness around stereotypes isn’t enough to actually dismantle them.

  2. I’m a therapist so I’m biased on this point (speaking of biases)…but I think it’s very important that trainings are set up in a way to have ample time for participants to reflect on their own experiences and thoughts, and also learn about other people’s experiences, especially people who are different from them in demographic categories like gender and race/ethnicity.

  3. Finally, it’s important that participants walk away with concrete skills to help them build a more inclusive workplace. And by concrete skills, I don’t mean “be more inclusive,” but tactical tips like: Set a timer for 5 minutes before a meeting ends, and at that point ask if there is anyone who hasn’t contributed yet who has something to add. (This is a great way to give quieter people–or people who have been cut off–a chance to speak up, and also help more dominant voices get used to taking a breath and letting others join the conversation.)

In case it’s helpful, our training is based on the IMB Model–it’s actually a model from public health that has been used to get people to adopt healthier behaviors. Since it’s worked so well in public health, we applied it to the workplace. The general idea is that behavior change is achieved when you: 1) Give people critical information about a topic (I), 2) Motivate them to take action on that information (M), 3) Give them specific behavioral suggestions for how you want them to change (B).

This work is tough, super complex, and it’s tricky to get right…but, it’s so rewarding when you see those light bulbs go off in people’s heads, and get to watch them adopting new behaviors. Hope this was helpful, and good luck!

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