Implicit Bias Training

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Julia Belluz:

“The best data we have suggests trainings often fail to fight prejudice. In a fascinating roundup of the evidence on diversity programs published in the Harvard Business Review, Dobbin and co-author Alexandra Kalev looked at 30 years of data as well as data from more than 800 US firms and interviews with hundreds of managers and executives. Here’s a quick summary of their findings on anti-bias trainings:

“It turns out that while people are easily taught to respond correctly to a questionnaire about bias, they soon forget the right answers. The positive effects of diversity training rarely last beyond a day or two, and a number of studies suggest that it can activate bias or spark a backlash. Nonetheless, nearly half of midsize companies use it, as do nearly all the Fortune 500.”

Diversity programs — which can include everything from hiring tests and performance reviews to ensure fair hiring and pay decisions as well as trainings — are designed to “preempt lawsuits,” they added, instead of truly stopping prejudice.

Another meta-analysis of more than 400 studies testing approaches to change implicit bias similarly found no evidence that getting people to acknowledge their implicit biases alters behavior.

“The short answer is that diversity trainings are filled with good intentions and poor evidence,” Brian Nosek, a University of Virginia researcher, summed up. “In terms of training in general, no matter what the topic, there’s very little evidence that it on its own can change behaviors that are usually what is of interest: reducing prejudice or bias that is unwanted. Implicit bias training is no different than that.” Some research suggests that trainings can even have a negative impact. “Training can bring bias to the surface,” Harvard’s Dobbin said. “It can make you think more about bias. It can activate stereotypes.”

This is especially true when the training is mandatory, researchers have found, which is exactly the approach Starbucks is taking. “People respond negatively to being forced to go and to being told that the reason they need to try to promote equality of opportunity and to advance diversity is because the law requires them to,” Dobbin said.” (