As a 30 year HR veteran, a former Global Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer for several major organizations, and an expert facilitator of “Unconscious Bias in Decision Making” training, I speak from experience when I say that Bias training (whether racial bias, gender bias, religious bias, or any other form) is not the cure to responding to poor judgment, public outrage due to prejudice, or protests against profiling patrons simply because they didn’t fit a certain pedigree.
While it is a bold and drastic measure to close business for a day for mandatory training for every employee across the country and to take a hit to the bottom line, I worry about what happens when 4 hours of training has concluded, doors of the business reopens, and the public applauds your bold show of commitment to minimizing bias. The truth is, a few hours won’t mitigate or eliminate bias from happening again.
Everyone has bias. It’s a part of the human make up. We need bias to protect us from danger. Biologically we are hard-wired to prefer people who look like us, sound like us and share our interests. But when left unchecked, biases can have a negative impact in everyday interactions. Simply put, unconscious bias is an opinion, positive or negative, we have about a group or person. It occurs when we make spontaneous judgments about people or situations based on the messages we learned growing up, from our past experiences, culture, background, and what we see/hear through media messages. These spontaneous judgments occur within 3-5 seconds of encountering a person. The attitudes or stereotypes that develop early in life (as early as 1-6 years old), are reinforced over time, and affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. So this is why 4 hours of training simply won’t undo our biases—they are ingrained, programmed, and perpetuated over time. At best you’ll get a “kumbaya” or “ah-ha” moment as a result of the training but that doesn’t convert to behavior change. And when the necessary systems are not in place to drive sustainable change, this huge investment of time, money, and resources will be deemed a futile exercise. Training is not the fix. Organizations must begin with a culture transformation. If you have never invested in a culture transformation, now is the time.
Here are 12 actions that need to happen in order to achieve a sustainable culture transformation:
- Assess–Start with a culture audit and conduct a S.W.O.T analysis. This may include Cultural Competence Assessments of all leaders and an Inclusion and Engagement Survey for all staff.
- Update your policies, procedures, and strategic plan to reflect how you will serve the changing demographics in your talent pool, customer segments, and communities.
- Revise your values to be more inclusive, flexible, and respectful of different ways of working, thinking, and believing.
- The President/CEO must constantly communicate the expectations in his/her messaging (both internally and externally).
- Change the people who don’t want to change.
- Let go of archaic belief systems that breed power structures through homogeneity, conformity, and hierarchy.
- Embed inclusive behaviors into performance goals, especially among people leaders.
- Ensure leaders are properly educated and developed on 21st century “Inclusive Leadership” competencies and behaviors. This course on LinkedIn Learning (and Lynda.com) is recommended for leaders at all levels Inclusive Leadership
- Offer learning resources and skill development to the entire staff (in and outside of the classroom) that reinforces the company’s mission, vision, values, and performance expectations.
- Leaders must ‘Walk the talk, don’t just talk the talk.’
- Practice the Platinum Rule, not the Golden Rule—Treat people the way THEY want to be treated, not the way YOU want to be treated.
- Establish accountability systems that reward and recognize inclusive behaviors and that penalize behaviors that aren’t inclusive.
I know it sounds like a lot to do but culture transformation takes time, effort, energy and commitment. Don’t be the company that has regrets for not making necessary culture changes because it would take too long and cost too much. I imagine that companies like #Starbucks, #Uber, #Nike, #Google, #Mattel, #Facebook all wish that they had done this a long time ago instead of being exposed in public and shameful ways. It’s bad for their brands, and bad for their business. And unfortunately, there are more to come.
My advice and coaching to all CEOs, Presidents, and Boards of Directors is to heed this call for culture transformation and not just use training as a Band-Aid and quick fix and hope that it will go away with the changing news cycle. Use the steps listed above and make the commitment to see this as a strategic imperative and an act of innovation and reinvention. Don’t wait for a disastrous PR nightmare, or a threat of a lawsuit, or the request for your resignation, or even worst, the loss of someone’s life because leaders and staff are not equipped or willing to deal with customers, co-workers, and clients who don’t look like them.