The Government recently announced it would be phasing out the use of unconscious bias training within the Civil Service and has encouraged other organisations to follow their lead. 

In a written statement, the Government revealed that they would be scrapping the use of unconscious bias training after conducting research into how effective this training was.

The research found that the training may have “limited effects” that were positive in allowing people to be made aware of their own implicit biases and wider diversity and discrimination issues.

However, overall, there was ultimately “no evidence” that the training changes behaviour or improves workplace equality in terms of representation of women, ethnic minorities or other minority groups in position of leadership or reducing pay inequalities.

In fact, the research outlines that it is even possible that this could back-fire as, within this training, participants could be exposed to information that suggests stereotypes and biases are unchangeable.

The CIPD were also cited as confirming this – stating that the success of unconscious bias training generally relied on self-reported measures which is unreliable. The CIPD further noted that there is typically no sustained impact on behaviour and emotional prejudice following UBT, which is not enough in itself to create diverse and inclusive organisations.

Due to this, the Government expressed that although it is “committed to levelling up opportunity for everyone, no matter what their background” and “determined to eliminate discrimination in the workplace”, it would be phasing out the use of unconscious bias training. It also encouraged other public sector employers to follow suit.

Responding to this, Raph Mokades, founder of Rare, a diversity recruiter, implied that the type of training needed to be tweaked in order to avoid a one-size-fits-all method:

The government has argued that unconscious bias training doesn’t work, because it doesn’t lead to positive or lasting changes of behaviour. Our research suggests that’s true of traditional training. Such training isn’t industry – or organisation – specific, and usually takes place as a one-off, box-ticking exercise.

There is another way, however. Data-driven exercises, based upon context-specific experiences of an organisation’s own people, offering confidential, personalised action points for each user – this is a different proposition from generic feel bad blanket ‘training’.

The government has said it is still committed to eradicating workplace discrimination in the civil service. It is vital that it stays true to that promise. We know, from the thousands of young people we have placed into even the most high-powered and forward-looking employers, that bias exists, that it damages an organisation’s performance, and creates injustices that can be devastating.

Speaking to the Guardian, Patrick Forscher, a psychologist whose research was utilised by the Government as part of their decision to scrap the training, also expressed his view that the unconscious bias training should be replaced with a different form of training:

I support the idea of scrapping unconscious bias trainings and redirecting the funds toward defining clearly the problems that they want to solve in the civil service related to race/ethnicity, defining how they plan to measure progress toward solving those problems, setting up monitoring systems to measure that progress, devising policy solutions that are more targeted toward those specific problems than unconscious bias trainings. I would be more in favour of replacing the training with something else.

*This research has been obtained from the Government’s ‘Unconscious Bias and Diversity Training – what the evidence says” research and the Parliamentary Secretary’s written statement which was released on the 15th December 2020.