Tech firms take lead on “bias-busting” culture-building training
Facebook has developed training to help employees recognize bias in the workplace and call it out.
Now it is sharing the training online so anyone can view it.
Facebook is one of a number of companies educating employees on the hidden biases that everyone harbors – a barrier to creating a corporate culture more welcoming to different people and ideas.
People unknowingly take unconscious mental shortcuts based on social norms and stereotypes, social psychologists say. And those mental shortcuts creep into the workplace, leading companies to hire and promote more white men, pay them more than women and minorities and foster corporate cultures where anyone not part of the dominant group feels alienated or excluded.
Making people aware
Tech companies are trying to shift their workforce demographics by making employees more aware of their own unconscious biases and helping them address bias when they witness it in the workplace.
It's an imperative in the tech industry, which is trying to address a yawning gender and racial gap.
Hispanics represent just 4% and African Americans are only 2% of Facebook's U.S. workforce. More than half — 55% — of Facebook employees in the U.S. are white, while Asians make up 36%. Around the globe, 68% of Facebook employees are men.
Facebook reported its latest diversity figures in June, showing little change from a year earlier despite a slew of efforts to recruit and retain more women and minorities.
Black v. white, Jennifer v. John
Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg says unconscious bias training is one of the most important initiatives companies can undertake to push for greater diversity.
"Studies show that job applicants with 'black sounding names' are less likely to get callbacks than those with 'white sounding names' – and applicants called Jennifer are likely to be offered a lower salary than applicants called John," she says. "And organizations which consider themselves highly meritocratic can actually show more bias."
Awareness of unconscious bias has increased with the Implicit Association Test. Millions have taken the online test, which measures racial prejudices. But only in recent years has bias training gained broader acceptance and adoption in corporate America.
Google was the first major technology company to call out unconscious bias for contributing to the systemic lack of diversity in the industry. The Internet giant began training its workforce in unconscious bias with a 90-minute lecture in 2013. Now it also holds "bias-busting" workshops, hands-on sessions that coach Google employees on how to recognize and root out hidden prejudices.