This article by Patricia Pope is a continuation of a previous article that was written to answer various attacks on the merits of diversity training. If you haven’t already, be sure to read In Defense of Diversity Training (Part 1).
Understanding the “Unconscious”
Growing up, we are all bombarded with stereotypes about all kinds of people, places, and things, and ‘unconsciously’ internalize many of these stereotypes without realizing it. In fact, we even learn the same stereotypes about our own identity group.
In a Women’s Self-Development training session years ago, a woman said, “I’ve always heard that women don’t make good managers. Well, I worked for one and it’s true. I’ll never work for another woman again.” As the facilitator, I asked, “Have you ever worked for a man who wasn’t a good manager?” “Sure,” she replied. I then asked, “Did you say that you would never work for another male manager because of that experience?”
Women hear the same messages about women just as men do, and judge each other accordingly.
A Black male was boarding an airplane and had his head turned to the left as he stepped inside and saw something he’d never seen before. A Black pilot. As he walked to his seat, his first thought was, “Oh Lord, please don’t let this be about Affirmative Action – I hope that brother can fly this plane!” As he sat down, he chastised himself for thinking that and recognized how many times he’d seen a White pilot in the cockpit and never once questioned his ability to fly the plane.
Understanding Our Influences
Experiences like this are important for each of us as we begin to examine the reactions we have to situations that trigger a stereotype we’ve learned. We each need to do our own work. We can’t be held accountable for the stereotypes and prejudices that we learned growing up. We didn’t ask to be taught these things.
Many participants over the years have said they grew up in an “Archie Bunker” home. Everyone knew what that meant. It’s easier for those individuals to pinpoint their stereotypes and more difficult for those who didn’t hear things like that sitting around the dinner table.
Yet, when they dig a little deeper, they remember what they heard from their peers, the way women and people of different racial/ethnic backgrounds were depicted on television, the way the news portrayed people differently, and sometimes even learning prejudice in their place of worship. We can’t manage our biases if we aren’t aware of what they are – which is why unconscious bias training is necessary.
Facilitators Must Do Their Own Work
Imagine a facilitator doing unconscious bias training who hasn’t done their own work. There is no question that in the 1970s and 1980s there were some facilitators who had not. Blaming and shaming others for stereotypes they learned in their formative years wasn’t an effective approach.
There were a lot of growing pains in the first two decades whether it was called ‘sensitivity training, racial or gender awareness training, or diversity training.’ It was a relatively new field, and most corporations hadn’t done anything like this before. There weren’t books, videos, or train-the-trainer programs.
Fortunately, this is much less of an issue today. However, facilitators must still be willing to continuously learn about their own biases.
Facilitators are Human Beings – not Perfect Beings
During one training, a male facilitator was leading an interactive session all morning and throwing questions out to the participants. Hands went up. He called on participants. It was a lively discussion. At lunchtime, another male facilitator who was observing the session pointed out that throughout the morning women had been raising their hands just as much as the men – but he hadn’t called on a single woman.
This was a great ‘teachable moment’ in real time about his unconscious bias. Now that he was aware of it, he made sure that he didn’t fall into that trap again. The subtle ones are the hardest for each of us to identify in ourselves.
The vast majority of people are good-hearted and well-intentioned. However, none of us can manage the biases that we are not aware of. This is why diversity training that incorporates a focus on the unconscious biases we all hold is critical to changing the culture of an organization.
At Pope Consulting, we have been specializing in unconscious bias training, diversity and inclusion training, and culture change initiatives for over 40 years. We have worked with over 250 of the Fortune 500 companies and have been leading the national conversation on the topics of inclusion, diversity, and unconscious bias. If your organization would like to learn more about what kind of training, consulting, or coaching solutions may be right for you, please contact us today. We’d love to get the conversation going.