Unconscious bias has been prominent in the news recently. In April, Starbucks faced harsh criticism after one of its employees called the police on two black men for “trespassing” in one of its stores. In May, a white graduate student at Yale called police on a black Yale graduate student who was napping in one of the university’s common rooms. And unconscious bias has long been a factor impeding greater diversity in workplaces around the country.
Faced with high-profile news coverage, organizations like the NYPD and Starbucks have launched unconscious bias training sessions for their staff. And many companies have implemented some form of training to make hiring managers and HR professionals aware of the potential for unconscious bias to impact their hiring decisions.
But the fact that unconscious bias is having such a major impact in areas as diverse as customer service, police behavior and even relationships between college students begs the question: should we be providing unconscious bias training to the general population?
Actions by the NYPD and Starbucks are purely reactionary. An incident has already occurred, let’s learn from it. Necessary, but a little too late. Rather than playing whack-a-mole and addressing incidents one-by-one, by industry and by organization as they occur, why not be proactive and start educating people early on and before people are refused service at a restaurant, turned down for a job, arrest by police or worse because of unconscious bias?
The obvious place to begin would be in public school systems. As we’ve noted in the past, the biggest challenge with unconscious bias is the fact that it’s unconscious. We don’t know we are subconsciously making judgments about other people based on their race, gender or background, so it’s nearly impossible to prevent our behavior from reflecting those judgments. Simply being aware of the existence of this psychological and well-documented phenomenon can go a long way to preventing many high-profile snafus in the future.
What could you do to make a difference? How could raising awareness of the potential (and probability) of unconscious bias in your organization help to spark discussions not only related to the #MeToo movement, but to other types and incidents of bias?
It's a good discussion to begin.
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