New evidence about Unconscious Bias shows this concept is not the silver bullet

Current research into Unconscious Bias shows that the awareness for and concern about expressing bias does actually help to accept feedback about bias and to take bias-reducing actions. The study conducted by Perry, Murphy and Dovidio (in press) found that white participants with high scores on a newly developed Bias Awareness Scale were likely to accept the (fictive) results of a bias measure indicating their preference for white individuals over black individuals. Participants with a lower Bias Awareness tended to reject such feedback. Moreover, the personal acceptance of bias feedback turned out to be the crucial tie between Bias Awareness and bias-reducing activities when participants were told to be biased. These findings confirm that Unconscious Bias training alone will not turn the totality of subtle and blatant discrimination, imbalance and inequalities into a fair and inclusive culture.

Unconscious Bias has received top attention over the past years. For practitioners believe the concept could help to overcome resistance and correct talent decisions of people leaders that may not always fully recognize and/or acknowledge the power and potential of diversity. In magazines and at conferences, a vast variety of concepts, tests and exercises are presented all claiming to effectively convey the essence of existing bias and address its implications. Different labels were introduced to describe varying concepts or methodologies, including implicit association, bias awareness or debiasing. Very few, however, consistently build on the vast body of research that was built up since the 1960s emerging from social psychology and complemented by neuroscience since the late 1990s. In fact, many of the concepts that are now discussed under the label of Unconscious Bias are part of the standard portfolio in HR, including judgment errors and attitudes, stereotype or prejudice. It appears to be important to distinguish the most relevant concepts in order to see the practical implications.

This article will be updated shortly to include a thorough analysis of different concepts and approaches. Because when you implement D&I, different types of biases are of essential relevance. For only if we are successful in explaining our audiences the various forms of existing barriers to realizing the benefits of diversity, we can build effective measures to address them. For too long, the mere presentation of the business case did not provide the full picture. But also Unconscious Bias does not show the complete story of the barriers that exist in people and in organisations. As a research based firm, we gathered and summarized studies from the beginning of Unconscious Bias research in the 1960s up to the present, and integrated results into a triangle model reflecting six barriers and biases towards diversity. All important elements of the model will also be included in this space along with the update.

In essence, research evidence clearly tells us that Unconscious Bias is one of several important barriers to recognising the potential of diversity. However, if we do not simultaneously address other issues that are embedded in organisations (in processes and in the culture), the effort, e.g. Unconscious Bias training, will not create a lasting effect. The art of effective D&I management continues to crystallise around the ability to orchestrate comprehensive change plans that initiate and drive change in a holistic way. Unconscious Bias must be one strong element – as it has been for more than ten years. Alone, however, it will not create a paradigm shift as some people suggest.

If you are interested in an overview of our model and how to mititgate Unconscious Biases, please get in touch by email