By now you’ve probably heard the story. On April 12, two black men were arrested in a Starbucks in Philadelphia. They were just waiting for a friend–not committing any crime–and a Starbucks employee decided to call the police.
In response, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson quickly decided that Starbucks would close 8,000 of their U.S. stores on May 29 for an afternoon of anti-bias training. The move is more than symbolic: it will surely cost Starbucks millions of dollars in lost revenue (plus money spent on the training itself), and it recognizes the business value of building more inclusive workplaces and communities. Addressing bias is an ongoing task–not a one-time training–but this is a crucial first step toward creating an inclusive environment.
Back here at Grovo, Starbucks’ response has made us reflect on our own experience with unconscious bias training. About a year and a half ago, at the end of 2016, we started taking our own unconscious bias Microlearning® lessons. We’ve learned a ton, and thought we’d share a bit about how our Microlearning approach enabled us to start making meaningful changes.
The first step of addressing bias is accepting we all have biases
One of the toughest parts of addressing unconscious bias is simply acknowledging it. It’s hard to admit that we have biases that might be hurtful or even discriminatory toward other people. By breaking down such a large concept into smaller pieces of Microlearning content, it was easier to accept and make meaningful changes in behavior. In different lessons, we went through the science behind unconscious bias, why everyone has biases, and the different ways in which biases might manifest themselves.
That helped use start talking openly about areas in which we saw bias negatively affecting our work. We were able to surface that some of the ways we were conducting work–our meeting and communications styles, our working schedules, even our processes–could be biased toward certain people. Once we were talking openly about it, we were able to begin addressing those issues head on.
It’s important to proactively seek out our blind spots
Part of accepting that we have unconscious bias is acknowledging that we have blind spots–areas of bias that we’re not even aware we hold. The next part of our unconscious bias lessons was focused on proactively shining a light on those blind spots to learn more about our biases. Now that the fear of feeling biased was gone, we were able to take incremental, manageable steps to make even more meaningful progress. Over the course of our lessons we worked on being more vulnerable and uncovering biases we never knew existed.
For example, we realized that we were probably committing microaggressions every day–making small statements or actions that discriminate against a marginalized group. So, we worked on speaking more carefully, using inclusive language, and addressing microaggressions politely in the moment when they came up. Then we even made a program of lessons on recognizing and addressing microaggressions.
Addressing bias requires slowing down our thinking
Just learning about biases isn’t enough. To actually address our biases, it’s helpful to create systems that force us to slow down the way we think. When you slow down your thinking, you can avoid making fast, reflexive decisions that are potentially biased, and instead make deliberate and enlightened decisions.
While it’s not always easy to create those systems, it was helpful to have different lessons that offered discrete actions and tips you can do fairly quickly to start preventing bias from creeping into your decisions. For example, you can assign a devil’s advocate in meetings to help think through alternative angles or perspectives. Create structured interviews to ensure that every candidate you interview is given an equal chance. And develop clear frameworks of questions to ask and actions to take before making consequential decisions.
Since developing our unconscious bias training, we’ve found that the way we work and the content we produce has changed profoundly. We talk more openly about uncomfortable issues. We search for the angles we might be missing, or perspectives we aren’t accounting for. And we do our best to consider how unconscious bias can impact any of the topics we cover in our content—from hiring and performance management, to design thinking and facilitating meetings. We’re far from perfect, but we make sure to refer back to our unconscious bias content on a regular basis so we can keep getting better.
We’ve made our unconscious bias content free for everyone
As we move forward, we believe it’s important for everyone to learn about and reflect on their own unconscious biases. As our CEO Steve Carpenter announced, you can start by taking our free unconscious bias training to learn what steps you and your organization can take.