Karen and Russell, two of the L&D heads of the Corporate University of a major French investment bank, contacted Aephoria through our website and asked us to support them with an unconscious bias programme. They requested that the programme address a number of concerns, including rising levels of bullying, an alarming loss of top female employees and difficulties in setting up affiliates in emerging markets.

Establishing individual awareness of bias

Aephoria designed a courageous and intense module on unconscious bias which involved both individual and group work. Firstly, we deployed the Implicit Association Test Implicitly across the bank’s leadership and senior managers in London, Paris and Bangalore. Implicitly uses reaction time to measure biases with regard to disability, age, gender, sexual orientation and ethnic origin. The assessment involves individuals completing a series of online sorting tasks with pictures of different social groups and words. The words have negative or positive associations. The sorting tasks have to be completed as quickly and accurately as possible. Implicitly measures the fractional differences in time taken to sort the different images and words in different ways. These differences are enough to measure the potential for somebody to behave in a biased way.

We then ran one-on-one feedback sessions to debrief people’s Implicitly reports, which brought leaders face-to-face with their potential biases. This raised levels of awareness and allowed people to explore some tricky diversity dynamics in a safe space with a qualified and experienced coach/therapist. We were able to support people to identify the sources of potential bias in their lives, where the bias might have come from and what action could be taken to bring the unconscious into the conscious realm.

Group exploration of bias

We designed and deployed a series of one-day workshops to support groups to explore and discuss unconscious bias. This was challenging, not least because the bank’s culture had historically rendered taboo any debate of sensitive inclusion issues. Our intensive process quickly established a safe container for people to speak out about their own biases and enabled group members to challenge each other on their behaviour.

Unconscious bias theory and research (Devine & Monteith, 1993; Plant & Devine, 2009; Devine et al., 2012) suggests that there are two main aspects of the topic that must be dealt with in order to engage successfully with bias, namely Awareness and Concern. Our workshop provided experiences of both, with workshop segments designed as shown below:

A global programme deployed with local flavour

The workshop was run in London, Paris and Bangalore on multiple occasions and each time the ‘flavour’ of the programme was changed to take into consideration the vital importance of cultural context. We found that bias was much easier to talk about in some locations vs. others and we noticed how different bias looks in India compared to France. We found that awareness differed significantly across countries, functions and departments. We uncovered fluctuating levels of concern throughout the organisation.

These variations all demanded huge flexibility, responsiveness and skill from our facilitators to constantly shape and reshape the content and process of the workshop to ensure that the delegates and the broader organisation got what they needed.