The topic of unconscious bias crops up regularly within discussions on DEI. Unconscious bias refers to the assumptions and associations we make about groups of people outside of our conscious thinking. These biases need to be challenged if we are embrace cultural and social differences.
The outcome of unconscious bias training should be conscious inclusion. Conscious inclusion is defined as ‘strategically executing a practical approach to driving the thoughts, beliefs and behaviours that allow us to value and leverage differences to achieve superior results’.
It’s about being intentional in the way we think, speak and interact with each other, using our differences to produce better outcomes.
There is a growing body of research that suggests conscious inclusion creates better DEI results beyond unconscious bias training.
The limitations of unconscious bias training
A large study spanning 30 years between 1971 and 2002 and involving over 700 organisations found that after unconscious bias training, Black employees were actually less likely to progress in their careers at the company.
This is potentially due to backlash from workers who had the training forced upon them. There is even some proof that unconscious bias training can do more harm than good, as it can inadvertently reinforce harmful stereotypes.
A 2019 CIPD report found that while unconscious bias training can be effective in increasing knowledge of cognitive biases, there is less conclusive evidence that it leads to real behaviour change.
Another 2015 study found that after a two hour workshop on gender bias at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, there was no reduction in gender stereotyping amongst male employees.
Unconscious bias training can normalise biases and cause people to adopt an ‘it’s not my fault’ attitude to their prejudices.
The worst possible result of unconscious bias training is employees who fail to see the point in challenging their biases because they are seen to be ‘natural’.
The power of conscious inclusion
Unconscious biases need to be challenged to bring about lasting change.
This is where conscious inclusion tackles both our unconscious and conscious biases by encouraging action against these biases.
Once we are aware how the language that we use, the behaviours we display and the reasons for our decisions can lead to bias, we need to change the language, behaviours and decisions to achieve conscious inclusion.
Conscious inclusion also requires training and support.
Netflix introduced ‘inclusion’ as one of their cultural values in 2017 and since then have been embedding it within their workforce.
The company regularly holds inclusion workshops, where employees are encouraged to view every decision through an ‘inclusion lens’ and ask questions such as ‘whose voice is missing?’ and ‘are we portraying this authentically?’
Advertising firm, Interpublic Group (IPG) has consistently achieved a 100% rating on the Corporate Equality Index, an annual survey published by the Human Rights Campaign, for 13 years.
IPG channels conscious inclusion by actively compensating their CEOs for championing inclusion. If a company’s CEO does not meet their DEI goals, their incentive pay is affected.
The firm runs programmes designed to consciously include employees from all backgrounds, including events, webcasts and learning opportunities to support each other on matters such as parenting, mental health, disability and immigration.
Practical recommendations for practicing conscious inclusion
There are multiple ways to incorporate conscious inclusion into the workplace, and we should also work to apply it at an individual level.
We can practice conscious inclusion by being mindful, actively listening and showing empathy towards other people.
By its definition, conscious inclusion involves challenging stereotypes and our personal assumptions. Seeking diverse perspectives on important topics will help with this, as input from different voices enables us to gain broader, more profound views that will help us challenge our own.
Conscious inclusion can also come in the form of getting involved in employee resource groups (ERGs). ERGs are typically voluntary groups that focus on supporting employees with a shared sense of identity such as people of colour, the LGBTQ+ community or workers with disabilities. ERGs help to create a sense of belonging and as they are employee-led, they are a great way for employees to get their voice heard within the company.
We have also developed an eLearning module on understanding key inclusion concepts and the vocabulary required to speak about these topics in a thoughtful and sensitive way.
For leaders, conscious inclusion in the workplace may begin with the modelling of inclusive behaviour.
According to a 2019 Catalyst survey of over 2000 employees worldwide, a leader who exhibits inclusive behaviours fosters a work environment where workers feel trusted, valued and psychologically safe. Consciously inclusive leaders include their employees in important decisions and open the door for honest dialogue and feedback.
Conscious inclusion leads to better DEI results
By embedding conscious inclusion into your company culture, your DEI efforts will accelerate in delivering you results. Unconscious bias training only takes us so far. Once we know about our biases, they are no longer unconscious and it’s time for action.
Start by being intentional about how you will include people today. Contact GDP to see how we can help you along the path to conscious inclusion.