Forbes: Your Unconscious Bias Trainings Keep Failing Because You’re Not Addressing Systemic Bias

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Part of WiFi (What I Find Interesting) Wednesday.

Forbes: Your Unconscious Bias Trainings Keep Failing Because You’re Not Addressing Systemic Bias

Read Your Unconscious Bias Trainings Keep Failing Because You’re Not Addressing Systemic Bias by Janice Gassam Asare, from, December 29, 2019.

I have watched bias trainings go incredibly well, but have watched their impact diminish over time. That is because these trainings only touch on the surface issues that create inequitable environments, but rarely tackle the systems of oppression and racist behavior that are endemic to the actual organization. Janice Gassam Asare, in Forbes Magazine, tackles the reason unconscious bias trainings may not work and how to address them in the future.

The focus of unconscious bias training is typically on helping individuals understand and recognize their own unconscious and intrinsic biases and suggesting behaviors to mitigate the preconceptions we are prone to. What unconscious bias trainings don’t account for are the systemic and structural issues (SSI) that allow biases to be perpetuated in the workplace. These are the unfair policies, the differences in opportunities and inequitable treatment that allow bias to persist. 

What are some of these SSIs and how can organizations deconstruct these oppressive systems to make for a more inclusive and equitable workplace?

by Janice Gassam Asare, from, December 29, 2019

Below are the four ways systemic and structural issues can continue to hamper bias training impacts:

1.    Exclusive and hostile work environments.

Being able to unpack and recognize our own biases can be instrumental in reducing these unconscious biases we each possess but if the organization fosters a hostile work environment and does not address microaggressions and counterproductive workplace behaviors, this is creating fertile ground for structural oppression to continue. If there are consistent claims of inequities being expressed by employees, there should be concrete actions that follow to rectify these issues (workshops and trainings, for example) and then policies should be put in place to prevent these issues from happening in the future.

2.    Similar-to-me bias

The similar-to-me bias is the phenomenon of individuals favoring others who are like them. If individuals have a propensity to favor others who are like them, this will widen the gap of inequality and result in more instances of, for example, males hiring and promoting other males. To address these structurally biased systems, employers should ensure that hiring and promotion evaluations are based on objective variables and that multiple people have a hand in assessing each candidate or employee to lessen the effects of the similar-to-me bias. Ensuring a diverse search and evaluation committee can also be helpful.

3.    The network gap

A recently published CNBC article discussed how important professional networks are becoming when it comes to securing a job. The article indicates that somewhere between 50-80% of jobs are secured by networking. Most people in today’s job market must leverage their network and ‘who they know’ in order to even get their foot in the door.

To address this issue, companies should reconsider hiring based on the more traditional model (assessing the candidates who apply online) and should be leery of hiring solely based on employee referrals. The challenge is that typically employees have first-hand knowledge of open positions within the company and they can encourage their connections to apply, as well as sharing what specific skills and abilities the company is seeking. To account for this, companies should create objective methods to evaluate candidates and there should be blind systems in place to mitigate bias (removing names and gender-identifiers from applications, for example). Lastly, diversifying the pools in which candidates are sourced from can help level the playing field and make the hiring process more equitable.

4.    Structural racism

Structural racism is defined as “the complex system by which racism is developed, maintained and protected.” As much as you try to create an equitable workplace, if employees do not understand white privilege and the many ways it manifests in the workplace, systemic oppression will continue.

With an understanding of white privilege, organizational leaders should assess policies and procedures to evaluate whether any of them perpetuate racial inequities. An example would be a company that has a grooming/appearance policy that inadvertently disadvantages employees with kinkier hair and more Afrocentric hairstyles. A policy that prohibits employees from wearing certain hairstyles could cause disparate impact. Understanding how practices and policies that were once deemed as acceptable may be causing and continuing inequities can help spark the necessary shift to deconstruct these oppressive systems.  

Continue reading Your Unconscious Bias Trainings Keep Failing Because You’re Not Addressing Systemic Bias by Janice Gassam Asare, from, December 29, 2019.

TEDx: How to Overcome Our Biases? Walk Boldly Toward Them

Watch How to Overcome Our Biases? Walk Boldly Toward Them by Verna Myers, from TEDxBeaconStreet, November 2014

When people say Black Lives Matter, that is the minimum we should expect from people to know and understand the value of Black lives. As Verna Myers says in her TEDx talk, there are “three things that I’m hoping will not only protect [Black men] but will open the world so that they can thrive.”

In her TEDx talk, Verna Myers talks about three things we can do to look within ourselves to address the real work of creating change. From 2014, she gives tips and testimony on how to avoid another Ferguson. I believe her tips will still resonate today.

You can find the Implicit Association Test (IAT) she references online, and read more about it at

So go looking for your bias. Please, please, just get out of denial and go looking for disconfirming data that will prove that in fact, your old stereotypes are wrong. 

by Verna Myers, from TEDxBeaconStreet, November 2014

Continue watching How to Overcome Our Biases? Walk Boldly Toward Them by Verna Myers, from TEDxBeaconStreet, November 2014

JPHigherEd: Replacing Ineffective “Diversity” Interview Questions

Read Replacing Ineffective “Diversity” Interview Questions from JPHigherEd

When I used to work in multicultural affairs, I would often represent my office in a number of searches going on across the campus – and as the often-times only person of color, I had to ask every question I could think to actually understand the interviewee’s beliefs and behaviors.

My White colleagues, however, did not share this burden. And often, they would ask what I considered softball questions like “what does diversity mean to you? How do you an ally to other communities?” And I would instead ask “Describe a time when you unintentionally excluded a group of people from one of your programs or services, how you changed policy or event, and how it was received from those you excluded?” The look of panic would tell me how prepared candidates were talking about racism and their own complicit behavior, or their lack of self-awareness at the very least.

Another favorite question I have asked is “We all have multiple and intersecting identities. Is there an identity you have that you believe has or could inhibit the full inclusion of the students we serve? And if so, what type of work or education would you need to address this issue?” I would sometimes use my cisgender identity as an area I needed to improve, since I was raised and taught within a gender binary that impacted my language – both written and verbal. So I learned to say everyone instead of guys, or hello all! instead of hello, ladies and gentlemen. I wanted candidates to know that we all have unconscious bias to address, through my questions, and the best candidates almost always knew how to address this type of question.

I don’t think we should avoid asking tough questions about inclusion in our higher education interviews. With many candidates walking into interviews with at least one advanced degree, we should meet them with high expectations on what work we expect to be not only intentionally inclusive, but also working towards justice.

The website JPHigherEd addressed the need to replace our standard “what does diversity mean to you?” questions and instead ask more pointed, relevant questions about diversity education and how this understanding will impact the candidate’s work:

How have you been educated to understand the history of Black and Brown folks in the United States?

Why are some folks poor in the United States?

Please identify the types of privilege present in your life and their impact on your professional journey thus far?

In what ways, do you perpetuate systems of oppression in higher education and what are you actively doing to stop?

What is the opportunity gap and how do you hope to address it at this institution?

I am unsure if the request for the longer list of questions will work, but what questions do you ask that you would want to include? List them below in the comments for others to read and use!

Continue reading Replacing Ineffective “Diversity” Interview Questions from JPHigherEd

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About Post Author

Joseph Rios, EdD

I am Joseph Rios and I believe that leadership is an expression of our values
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