Building an Effective Unconscious Bias Program: Webinar Q&A

aDuring our recent Lessons on Building an Effective Unconscious Bias Program webinar, we gave attendees the opportunity to pick the brains of managing unconscious bias expert and Paradigm Founder & CEO, Joelle Emerson, and Emtrain’s Founder & CEO, Janine Yancey.

What is Unconscious Bias Training?
Unconscious Bias training educates employees on the concept of unconscious bias, helping everyone understand and recognize their own unconscious biases toward other individuals. Unconscious bias training also provides suggested behaviors and actions to mitigate preconceived notions we are used to. However, unconscious bias training must connect to the bigger picture and take diversity and inclusion into account.

Check out their answers and, if you have any additional questions, you’ll have an opportunity to ask your own questions at the bottom of the page.

Top questions on how to build (or building) an effective unconscious bias program:

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  • 1. What is an example of action-oriented strategies instead of simply awareness raising?

    Take the example of recruiting and hiring. Awareness-raising might focus on how bias can affect our decisions in this process. An action-oriented workshop would pair that “awareness” with specific strategies for managing bias in recruiting and hiring. For example, we know that when people are asked to articulate clearly the skills and qualifications for each role in advance of assessing candidates, they’re less likely to be influenced by bias. When they craft specific interview questions aligned to those skills and qualifications, even better. In the Paradigm workshop, we share strategies like this for managing bias, and then prompt participants to commit to a particular strategy, either recruiting, team dynamics and/or career advancement.

  • 2. Would you consider unconscious biases and implicit biases the same?


  • 3. Interested in your opinions on the use of AI as a bias filter? SAP SuccessFactors recently announced that they are going to use AI to build bias filters into their software.

    Machine learning like the product announced by SuccessFactors is already in use to manage potential bias in certain areas. For example, Textio ( is a tool for scanning job descriptions and recruiter emails for language that might be less engaging for candidates from underrepresented backgrounds. While technology can be a great tool for scaling bias interventions, its efficacy will depend entirely on how it’s designed, and the specific problems its seeking to address.

  • 4. How can we better engage and reward those who are partaking because of peer pressure? Any tips on how to spot these folks?

    Peer engagement drives further peer engagement and the reward is the validation of having their comments published to the workforce (confidentially). When publishing curated comments, you should also provide a mechanism for people to comment on the curated comments in order to spark a further cycle of dialog.

  • 5. Any suggestions on how to better communicate to those above us that it’s difficult to measure and track impact that’s immediate?

    You need to design your program so it can capture and measure data. So for example, the Emtrain UB Program tracks and reports on a number of items including:

    • which area of the talent cycle people believe requires the most immediate attention
    • the specific recommended best practices that employees are committing to
    • the comfort level of each employee with the idea that their voice is heard and/or they believe they are made aware of career advancement opportunities (as reflected in a number scale)

    It’s important for leaders to understand the importance of measuring these proximal outcomes (and not just a long-term outcome, like “did this change the demographics of our workforce,” which is influenced by a number of factors). With the data points measured in this program, diversity leaders are able to have a conversation with a C-Suite executive, armed with actionable data that provides solid business intelligence.

  • 6. How important would you say is it for these programs to be highly tailored for each department/business unit? And along what divisions have you found this tailoring to be effective?

    Great question. Here’s the protocol we recommend: Start general for the entire workforce audience; this phase of the program is aimed at establishing a baseline understanding of how unconscious bias comes into play at work, and the types of strategies that are effective for managing it.

    In the general phase, implement a mechanism to solicit, track and report on key data points (similar to what the Emtrain/Paradigm program does). For example, solicit responses about which areas of the talent cycle require the most focus, which UB commitments are people making; generally how included are people feeling as a member of the workforce, etc. Capture the data in a way that you can slice and dice it to reflect gender, department, office, team, etc. Our Program does that, and you can create one internally to do the same.

    Second, publish a report to the workforce regarding the data you’ve collected. Based on our analytics, we can guarantee that people will be interested and will read it. Solicit comments to the report and track those further comments.

    Third, use micro-video learning in response to the data you tracked and reported on in step 2. The micro-video learning will be in context and patently relevant to what people in the workforce have reported on. Based on your data, this is where you’ll tailor the micro-video learning to the specific issues reported by each business unit or department. For example, if a specific team reported that career advancement is their biggest issue, send a follow up micro-video learning about career advancement and tailor your message to what those employees were reporting.

    If you implement a program that includes those three steps (general orientation, track/publish data, send targeted micro-video learning responsive to the data), you’ll have a framework for measuring the results of your program.

  • 7. How long should the learning bites be (how much time)?

    No more than 5 minutes AND you want to promote them that way. Let people know they can take these micro-video lessons on their phone to make it super simple.

  • 8. Do you recommend using current events in the media as ways to discuss or address unconscious bias?

    We have used this in our organization to examine how UB might have influenced the situation. Not necessarily to take sides on an issue but to kind of ponder together how UB or IB could have influenced a decision especially if it is related to our industry or a particular role within our organization.

    Definitely. Using current events to discuss a concept like UB is a great way to provide context and relevance which helps trigger interest and motivation to learn (because you’re connecting it to a timely social event) and helps people understand the concept as they can assess how UB may have influenced actions. HERE is a great article from today’s New York Times that takes exactly this approach.

  • 9. What are best practice suggestions for clarifying in CEO’s mind the distinction between “D&I” and this critical concept of UB?

    That’s a great question. We at Paradigm think about unconscious bias as one (and one of many) barriers to diversity and inclusion. There are benefits both to D&I and to managing bias. By understanding these different benefits, it can help you draw a distinction between the two concepts.

    For example, the benefits of D&I relate to innovation and team effectiveness (HERE is one of our favorite articles on this). They also relate to designing for a diverse user base.

    The benefits of managing UB are different. By managing unconscious bias, we’ll make more objective, data-driven decisions. We’ll also ensure that we’re hiring the best candidates, and surfacing the best ideas. Finally, managing UB can help us build a more diverse, inclusive workforce (since people from underrepresented and stereotyped groups tend to be most affected by UB). Cultivating diversity and inclusion is one major benefit of managing UB, but it’s only one.

    Any organization that wants to ensure decisions are objective and well reasoned should care about managing UB. To understand some of the benefits of managing UB, ask your CEO to read Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman’s book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, which outlines how mental shortcuts can inhibit good decision-making.

  • 10. Where can I get more info/demo on the Emtrain UB online training?

    Great question! You can get more information and a demo of the Emtrain UB Program here. There is also a preview of the program here.

  • 11. What are specific strategies that should be covered in a UB program?

    A UB Program should cover strategies and best practices for managing UB in the three phases of the talent cycle: recruitment, team dynamics and career advancement. Paradigm’s white paper outlines some of the strategies we think are most helpful to weave into a UB program. As outlined in our responses to questions 6 and 7, any UB program should also include a mechanism for tracking and reporting on key data points. You can hear about which strategies to cover in your UB Program by listening to a prior Emtrain/Paradigm webinar recording here.

  • 12. Dealing with small business owners, with 10-50 employees, in which the CEO/Owner hasn’t bought into understanding UB and the effects of UB on company culture and hiring, what are some tactful approaches to creating buy-in with the CEO?

    Any business executive, regardless of the size of the business, will be interested in learning how the workforce can make better decisions and perform at a higher level. Team performance and results are impacted when the culture fosters “groupthink” and ideas are not challenged. Ideally, you can think of an example of a situation that illustrates this concept and tie the concept as directly relating to business results. And as suggested in our response to question 10, recommend that your business executive read Thinking, Fast and Slow.

  • 13. How effective is it to include staff level as part of the introduction/kick off speech? Would that help participants feel like this is more about them rather than a management directive?

    It really depends on the execution of the intro/kickoff and how well staff can connect with line employees.

  • 14. What other suggestions, such as the meeting interruption attention tool, are easily grasped for this UB learning?

    You can hear about which strategies to cover in your UB Program by listening to a prior Emtrain/Paradigm webinar recording.

    Have more questions for Janine and Joelle? Ask here!

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Allison Baker

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