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Businesses shouldn’t invest in anti-bias training, says LSE professor

Businesses are said to have put too much focus on training that fails to lead to meaningful change

Group of mixed age and multi ethnic colleagues in discussion

Businesses should avoid investing in training sessions aiming to overcome unconscious bias among employees, a London professor has warned.

London School of Economics (LSE) professor Dr Grace Lordan described unconscious bias training, which cost organisations around £6 billion a year, as entirely ineffective.

“Unconscious bias training doesn't work,” she said, speaking at the Tech for D&Iversity event, held on Thursday evening. “Your unconscious bias is based on your background, it's based on the way that you've been brought up. The idea that somebody can come into a company, spend two hours with an organisation, and change everybody's actions is just bizarre. It does not happen.”

The ineffectiveness of anti-bias training has been known since the 1930s, with numerous academic papers from top universities backing the claim. Despite this, public and private sector organisations alike have poured resources into the practice, which has become a lucrative market – especially since 2020, when companies including tech giants were urged to address systemic racism following the murder of George Floyd on 25 May.

However, anti-bias training has since been criticised as simply a bureaucratic practice that doesn’t implement real change, nor does it lead to increased diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

In October 2020, the UK government was criticised for spending more than £400,000 on unconscious bias training sessions, according to a Freedom of Information request by the TaxPayers’ Alliance.

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Lordan, who founded LSE’s The Inclusion Initiative (TII) in November 2020, told attendees that, instead of spending money on ineffective training, team leaders should “put structures in place” to prevent employees from falling into the traps of unconscious bias.

This includes providing equal opportunities across team members and auditing pay gaps, she added.

“We encourage people to write down whether or not somebody disagrees with their idea and encourage dissent. And then to look back and see: Are you ignoring the women? Are you ignoring people from a particular country or even people who follow a particular football team?”

Lordan’s advice comes as the latest TLA research found that three quarters of London’s tech companies have almost no BIPOC representation on their senior leadership teams, with the lack of diversity potentially costing the UK tech sector its world-leading position.

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