Opinion

Here Is Why Unconscious Bias Should Be the Least of Your Worries.

Paolo Gaudiano Headshot

By Paolo Gaudiano

By Paolo Gaudiano

Almost exactly four years ago, Starbucks closed more than 8,000 stores across the US for racial bias training, after an incident involving two Black men being arrested at one of their locations. Two years later, the murder of George Floyd sparked a wave of increased corporate sensitivity to issues of racism and other forms of unconscious bias. Since that time, unconscious bias training has become the primary type of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) program in corporate America, with estimates suggesting that many billions of dollars are spent annually on unconscious bias training, in spite of mounting evidence that unconscious bias training programs have limited effectiveness and can even lead to backlash.

There are many kinds of unconscious bias, but all of them can be classified as individual biases, that is, biases in the way an individual thinks or behaves. Individual biases can be conscious or unconscious—meaning that the person exhibiting the bias may or may not be aware that their thoughts or actions are biased— but, in either case, individual biases impact workplace DEI primarily through interactions between individuals. Examples of individual biases include: an executive who is uncomfortable mentoring women; a recruiter who does not believe candidates from a community college are worth interviewing; a manager who tends to assign better projects to younger reports; an employee who uses racial slurs against a co-worker.

What few seem to realize is that there are many other kinds of biases within an organization that are not individual biases. The goal of this article is to introduce the notion of organizational biases, to provide some examples, and to show that organizational biases can have a much greater impact on workplace DEI than individual biases. A separate article will also show that, in many cases, it is possible to identify and mitigate organizational biases, yielding a much greater positive impact on workplace DEI than unconscious bias training.

Read the full Forbes article.
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Paolo Gaudiano is an Adjunct Associate Professor.