5 Strategies for Improving Anti-Bias Training

Preventing biased and harassing behavior is the goal of much eLearning—many companies require that managers or all employees complete some form of harassment-prevention training at regular intervals. Yet much of this eLearning is ineffective. The following five strategies discussed more deeply in The eLearning Guild’s free white paper, Training for Diversity, can help designers and developers working on improving anti-bias training and contributing to the broader goal of creating a more inclusive workplace.

1. Stay on message

Corporate training is generally presented with the company’s bottom line sharply in focus—meaning that the clearest message in much harassment-prevention training is that bad behavior is bad for business. Other companies emphasize their liability—and use harassment-prevention training to reduce their legal culpability for employees’ conduct.

Neither of these messages is compelling enough to engage the typical learner or change behavior. Instead, try an appeal to the company’s core values or to individuals’ desire for fair and respectful treatment.

2. Behavior change takes time

Shifting to a more respectful culture from an environment where offensive behavior, such as sexist jokes, is tolerated takes time. Any initiative that aims to change behavior is better measured in weeks or months than in hours of training. Julie Dirksen, an eLearning consultant who studies behavior change, cites a 12-week intervention as a “remarkable and rare” example of an intervention that showed success. “Traditional diversity classes often produce good intentions but little behavior change, and rarely address the deep level of unconscious bias,” she wrote. Participants in the study learned to recognize their own biases and consciously applied strategies to change behavior that resulted from these biases; they also had opportunities to discuss their experience with other participants.

3. Try personalization

Every learner comes to training with individual beliefs and experiences; a blanket approach—particularly one that singles out individuals or groups, such as “white males” as responsible for bias—is unlikely to win hearts or change behavior. Elizabeth Tippett, an associate professor at University of Oregon School of Law and author of a recent content analysis of harassment trainings, suggests personalize eLearning content so it reflects learners’ attitudes, beliefs, behavior, and experience. As a model, she cites a method used in public health training that gauges how open a person is to changing his or her behavior before choosing a training approach.

4. Educate learners on policies—and consequences

In addition to specific eLearning aimed at changing learners’ behavior or reducing bias, ensure that all employees know the company’s policies—and are aware of penalties for violations. Provide eLearning during onboarding and support all employees with microlearning that communicates the company’s policies clearly. Where harassment-prevention training addresses a response, the tendency, Tippett said, is to advise people to turn to human resources. But that’s not always the appropriate response, and training should suggest additional responses, particularly for low-level behaviors that are offensive but not illegal.

5. Add performance support to training

In addition to a broad, long-term approach to behavior change, reinforce eLearning and other anti-bias training with performance support tools. According to Joanne Lipman’s book That’s What She Said, Google and Royal Bank of Canada, use “bias cheat sheets” to guide managers who are hiring or evaluating employees, reminding them of common biases and how to avoid acting on them. Other support tools can suggest that managers encourage all employees to lead meetings or speak up.

Google’s re:Work initiative suggests using rubrics and other tools that spell out clear, objective criteria that all members of an interview or review committee can use when evaluating interviewees or candidates for promotion.

Better anti-bias training leads to better results

Research overwhelmingly points to the benefits of a diverse workforce and a workplace culture where people feel respected. It’s not necessary to focus on the bottom line to motivate learners—but implementing a sustained effort to eradicate bias—including improving anti-bias training—can show unexpected benefits across the company.

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