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  • Tamara Makoni

Great, you know unconscious bias exists. Now what?



Word on the D&I street is that 2022 is the year of accountability. That enough is enough: it’s time to move past raising awareness of systemic inequalities and privilege. Now let's act to mitigate it and upend the status quo.


Kazuri Consulting’s motto - discover, act, thrive - acknowledges that change is a process. First, you have to be aware of a need or issue before you can address it. Then targeted action takes you from awareness to your desired end-state (aka a place where you can thrive). These steps allow us to prevent remaining trapped in the same cycle, albeit with open eyes.


The action part is where many D&I interventions have traditionally stalled. Unconscious bias training, for instance, is too often still delivered as a one-off intervention instead of what it needs to be: the opening act in a series of interventions designed to catalyse behavioural and mindset change. For how can one session be sufficient to unlearn habits and thought patterns that we’ve spent years learning and refining?


At best, nothing changes. At worst, studies suggest we actually make more biased judgements when we consciously try to resist stereotypes and suppress unfavourable attitudes. What’s more, failing to focus on action beyond raising awareness is jeopardising D&I efforts. When unconscious bias training doesn’t deliver the goods, alarm bells ring. Some leaders have concluded that unconscious bias is just an elaborate hoax. But their attention is misdirected: the fault lies with the delivery, not the subject matter.



Shifting gear from awareness to action


So you’re planning to launch an initiative to create awareness and build momentum around D&I. What can you do to achieve meaningful impact?


Ideally before you started planning your awareness initiative you mapped out your overall D&I strategy and intended outcomes. If you didn't, sit down and figure this out before going any further. To have true impact, all your interventions need to work together to achieve a clear outcome. Raising awareness for awareness’ sake is how you end up with something that doesn’t trigger lasting change and gives off strong 'PR stunt' vibes.


Once your focus is clear, define KPIs to measure impact and keep yourselves accountable. Plan in checkpoints to review these regularly and monitor progress towards your goal.



All done? Great. Now plan for interventions that are specifically aimed at equipping people with the right tools to bring about the changes you want. Opportunities for both introspection and practical action are important, since you want to shift attitudes as well as behaviours.


As an example, let’s say your objective is to create a culture that’s more inclusive.


  • Introspection: Invest in training and other resources to help your people understand what an inclusive leader is in terms of skills and traits. The resources should enable them to reflect deeply on this topic to understand its importance, and assess their own strengths and development areas in relation to it. Also, provide them with tools and opportunities to upskill as needed.


  • Practical action: Use resources and protocols to nudge their behaviour in the right direction. For instance, create an inclusive event checklist and insist that leaders can only greenlight events that meet 90% of checklist criteria.


Conclusion


To move from awareness to action make sure people understand what’s expected of them, how change will benefit them and the organisation, and what they need to do to hit the bar that’s been set. And don't forget that learning is a process. It will take time and multiple interventions. But the research is clear: this is what works.


And the market is clear too: good intentions are great, but impactful actions are far better.