Police to trial unconscious bias training

Sandra Kerr OBE,  Business in the Community Race Equality Director welcomes the announcement that the police are to trial unconcious bias training but warns that a wider programme of change is necessary

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I was very pleased to learn this week the police is going to trial unconscious bias training for officers in a bid to address disproportionate targeting of BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) people for stop-and-search. Given that earlier this week a survey by the Independent Police Complaints Commission found BAME people are less likely to trust the police, this is a welcome step in the right direction. But we must be careful not to see this training as a magic solution; instead, it should be part of a wider ongoing programme of change.

We know that unfortunately racial bias is still prevalent in many sectors. For example, as our infographic shows, in the UK there is high racial bias in sectors with low numbers of BAME employees such as construction (69.3%), engineering (70.6%), finance (69.5%) and legal (67.8%). Our ‘Aspiration and Frustration’ research suggests that many BAME people are ‘turned off’ from careers in these sectors, and this bias may be putting people off from pursuing opportunities. However, other sectors where there are higher numbers of BAME employees at senior levels also show high levels of bias, like food service (70.4%) and transport (72.5%). Therefore, by taking steps to reduce unconscious bias, employers in all sectors can help to increase diversity of hires within their organisations, which then feeds into higher BAME representation further up the ladder, but the action to ensure teams and workplace cultures are inclusive must continue.

One way employers can do this is through providing mandatory unconscious bias training to all staff involved in recruitment processes. Our Gender and Race Benchmark shows that employers which do this are more likely to have similar rates of conversion from applying to being hired for both BAME and white candidates. This training could help to close the gap between application and hiring rates for BAME candidates with currently exists in many sectors. Employers should also consider extending unconscious bias training to external recruiters and to employees involved in the promotion, assessment and appraisal process, to ensure BAME employees do not get stuck at the bottom of organisations but have fair opportunities to progress and be represented at all levels.

However, it is important to note that unconscious bias is not a ‘one-and-done’ approach. It is easy to provide one session and leave it at that, but this approach ignores people’s changing experiences and perceptions. Instead, employers should provide refresher modules on unconscious bias to staff involved in recruitment on a regular basis, to ensure they stay up to date. Unconscious bias awareness should also be part of a wider programme of increasing diversity in recruitment, including using a wide variety of recruitment channels, targeting diverse candidates at recruitment fairs (and looking outside the ‘traditional’ universities for graduates), and monitoring the number of BAME applicants at each stage of the process to identify any gaps and develop approaches to address them.

Ultimately, multiple methods of raising awareness of unconscious bias can have a huge impact on diversity within organisations – but too few organisations are providing it, and fewer are thinking about how they can continue to reinforce the importance of it.. Our Race at Work survey highlighted that only 7% of employees in the UK could say that they knew that diversity and inclusion training was mandatory for managers.  Employers must at least make a start in demonstrating  their commitment by providing training for managers and providing training on an ongoing basis to all staff involved in recruitment and ensuring it is built into a wider strategy to support diversity at all levels. Only then will employers reflect the UK’s changing population and be truly representative of the clients, customers and communities they serve.

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