Unconscious Bias Interventions for Business: An Initial Test of WAGES-Business (Workshop Activity for Gender Equity Simulation) and Google’s “re:Work” Trainings
Experiential learning may be more effective in training employees to recognize and address unconscious bias than less interactive anti-bias initiatives.
Unconscious bias, or thought processes involving automatic, unfair judgements of people based on their belonging to a social group, has been increasingly recognized as a problem in the workplace. Academics, consultants, and industry professionals have developed trainings to mitigate unconscious bias specific to business settings. However, few of these programs have been systematically evaluated, leaving their ultimate effectiveness in the workplace relatively unknown. Broader research on anti-bias trainings demonstrates that even well-intentioned initiatives can prove ineffective or even backfire.
Google's "Unconscious Bias @ Work" training, for example, is a publicly-available industry standard that has received only internal review. To identify effective anti-bias training practices, the authors sought to replicate and empirically evaluate Google's training compared against a newly-designed, interactive anti-bias initiative, WAGES-Business. Google's training format, like many widely use in business, consisted of a PowerPoint lecture presenting scientific findings on unconscious bias followed by a Q&A session. WAGES-Business, however, incorporated theory-grounded experiential learning methods (where participants learn by doing). WAGES-Business presented scenarios of unconscious gender bias in business in a game setting. Players progressed along a game board to reach the highest level of professional attainment before concluding the exercise with a facilitator-led discussion.
To compare the trainings' effectiveness, the authors randomly assigned participants to undergo either the Google training, the WAGES-Business training, or a control condition, and then followed up with surveys assessing the impact on the participants' acknowledgment of bias, knowledge of gender equity issues, willingness to discuss bias, willingness to confront bias, concern about bias, reactance (a resistant response to perceived threats to freedom of behavior), and self-efficacy (hopefulness about using the information provided).