Training Not Enough to Overcome Implicit Bias
If you’ve been following the news lately, you probably know that Starbucks has been in the spotlight—and not for its 2018 limited edition white chocolate mocha.
Implicit Bias Leads to Arrests
Recently, a manager at a Starbucks in Philadelphia called the police on Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson—two black men who were at the store for a business meeting. The 911 records show the manager made the call just two minutes after the men entered the store. Robinson later told Good Morning America that police placed him in double-lock handcuffs, failed to tell him why they were arresting him, and put him in a squad car.
Since the men’s arrest on April 12, many bloggers and reporters who have covered the story have blamed the manager’s actions on “implicit bias.” According to the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, implicit bias, also known as “implicit social cognition, refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.” Implicit biases, which develop from “exposure to direct and indirect messages” beginning at a very early age, cause “feelings and attitudes about other people based on characteristics such as race, ethnicity, age, and appearance.” Starbucks has stated that it will make all its employees undergo “antibias” training.
Enduring Change Occurs Through Organizational Inclusion
Although implicit bias training is often designed to raise participants’ awareness of their own prejudiced thought processes while teaching them to identify and challenge prejudiced thoughts, employers cannot rely solely on such training to rid employees of racism, sexism, ageism, and the like. First, it’s hard to imagine that an afternoon or even a multiday training session could divest employees of feelings or attitudes they’ve harbored for most of their lives. Second, antibias training works best when employees want to change. If they feel forced to participate, they will resist learning, and the training will not be effective.
Third, if employees feel the training is mostly for show or PR purposes, you cannot expect any lasting change. Finally, implicit bias training can actually retraumatize employees who are members of marginalized groups by making examples out of their lived experiences while asking them to remain silent as their colleagues openly share their biases.
However, true, profound, enduring change is possible when an organization wholly dedicates itself to remaking its culture into an inclusive one. Implicit bias training is just one small piece of the puzzle. Real transformation takes time—more than an afternoon’s worth—and typically requires assistance from experts, who can assess the problematic workplace culture and tailor strategic plans to address it. Those experts include consulting groups such as Anti-Oppression and Resource Training Alliance (AORTA) and First Degree Consulting, which help employers set and meet goals for organizational inclusion. In addition, skilled employment attorneys can craft workplace policies and procedures to minimize the impact implicit bias can have on employees and customers.
In any case, you can take the following steps to correct implicit bias and harmful “isms” in your workplace:
- Ensure your organization’s leadership is diverse and includes marginalized people.
- If your organization is big enough, hire a diversity and inclusion officer, and invest her with decision-making power.
- Make your employees part of the solution. Center their voices in conversations about policies and practices that will increase workplace inclusivity.
Call Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr (212 980-7200) with any questions about this topic. Special thanks to Jeanine Kayembe, co-executive director and co-founder of Urban Creators, for her contributions.
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