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Protests raise profile of implicit bias training

Implicit bias training has been around for years, but the Black Lives Matter movement and nationwide protests are giving it new attention.

In 2017, Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Texas) led a push for legislation to improve policing. The Sandra Bland Act, named after a 28-year-old woman who died in police custody following a routine traffic stop, included several provisions, such as de-escalation training. The final version of the bill, however, was stripped of something Coleman wanted: a requirement for implicit bias training for all police officers.

The protests over the death of George Floyd gave Coleman a new opportunity. He contacted the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, which oversees policing in the state, and asked it to make implicit bias training a statewide requirement for all police officers. The agency could act administratively, without a need for legislative action. Last week, it agreed to make implicit bias training a requirement, he said. 

"You use the moment," Coleman said in an interview. But he also used his clout that comes with being in the legislature for nearly 30 years.

"We all have biases, but we don't know it until we are forced to face them ourselves," Coleman said. Implicit bias or unconscious bias refers to biases that people have outside of their own awareness.

Tayo RocksonTayo Rockson

A new moment may be arriving nationally for implicit bias training. This training is often managed by HR. Its advocates say it can reduce harassment claims, improve engagement and employee retention, but it doesn't get the attention it needs, according to Tayo Rockson, CEO of the diversity and inclusion consulting firm UYD Management in New York and author of the book Use Your Difference to Make a Difference.

Programs are lacking

Firms typically treat implicit bias training as "a check off the box" initiative, Rockson said. Implicit bias training has "not been allowed to be an effective training program," he said. An effective program has to be an ongoing one that keeps the problem in the forefront, he said.

We all have biases, but we don't know it until we are forced to face them ourselves.
Rep. Garnet Coleman(D-Texas)

"If there's anything that we've seen in the last couple of weeks is that there's a long way to go," Rockson said. "People need to change their minds about diversity, equity and inclusion training as a nuisance or something that isn't part of the fabric of a company," he said. 

Discussion about implicit bias training was already on the rise over the last several years.

In 2018, Starbucks Corp. closed stores for a day to provide anti-bias training for 175,000 employees following an incident in a Philadelphia store. Two African American men were waiting for a business meeting to begin "when a manager called the police on them after they did not order anything. The two were arrested and led out in handcuffs. It had been less than 10 minutes since they arrived," according to a Starbucks account. The firm has since made anti-bias training available on an ongoing basis and made it available on nearly 23,000 specially modified iPads. 

In California last fall, the governor signed legislation that requires implicit bias training for healthcare professionals, lawyers and judges. 

Turning to tech

The tools for implicit bias training vary. 

At one end of the spectrum is video. The National Association of Realtors, for instance, said last week it is making a 50-minute implicit bias training video available to its members and staff. 

At the other end are SaaS programs. Emtrain, a San Francisco-based firm, makes an implicit bias training SaaS platform. Its SaaS product allows firms to run implicit bias training on an ongoing basis. It uses a combination of interactive tools, including polling, questions and answers and feedback from participants. 

Janine YanceyJanine Yancey

The comments by users on the platform are anonymized, said Janine Yancey, founder and CEO at Emtrain, because "people do not feel comfortable opening up on this topic." 

Part of a component of this topic "is hearing from your black co-workers," Yancey said. The idea is to "bring those experiences [of discrimination] down to a human level," she said. 

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