The impact of unconscious bias on individual and organisational outcomes

In 2015, the IPA published its report on diversity and inclusion and employee engagement called
Diverse Voices. Our research found that there are gaps in engagement across various groups of the
workforce and that one possible explanation for this could be the impact of unconscious bias on
individual and organisational outcomes.

An extensive literature review, in-depth interviews at six case study organisations and interviews
with experts in the field of diversity and inclusion suggested that the effect of unconscious bias can
be quite detrimental to organisations and at an employee level - could lead to low levels of
engagement and productivity and have a negative impact on staff morale. Unconscious bias also
influences how an organisation recruits and promotes staff and how learning and development
resources are shared between various groups.

Unconscious bias training programmes

To tackle this issue, organisations are spending millions of dollars commissioning unconscious bias
training programmes. It is estimated that in the US alone, organisations have spent over $8 billion on
their annual diversity and inclusion training (including unconscious bias awareness). However, there
has been little research to assess the impact of such programmes. Some studies have shown that
unconscious bias training programmes at tech companies like Google haven’t delivered the desired
outcomes. There is also research which suggests that poorly conducted training programmes that
make it mandatory for employees to attend can actually increase bias amongst trainees.
Nevertheless, organisations continue to invest considerable time, money and effort in
commissioning these sessions.

In this report, we first define what unconscious bias is and explore the various types of biases that
are known to have great impact on organisational culture and processes.

Implicit Association Test (IAT)

We briefly discuss the Implicit Association Test (IAT) which is the most widely used tool to measure
implicit bias and elaborate on the various ways in which unconscious bias training programmes can
be tailored to better meet the needs of organisations and their staff.

Our view is that before an organisation commissions a training programme on unconscious bias, it
should ensure that it has in place the structures, policies and procedures to recognise, address and
mitigate the impact of unconscious behaviours. It is extremely important that organisations first
create an inclusive culture and take a holistic approach to tackling issues of equality, diversity and
inclusion and not expect training session(s) on unconscious bias or diversity and inclusion to solve all
issues related to equality and diversity. We also discuss the important role of the leadership team in
cultivating and sustaining such a culture.

The full report, Addressing Unconscious Bias in the Workplace, can be downloaded here

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