• Francesca Root

SHAKING-UP UNCONSCIOUS BIAS TRAINING: WHY THE IN-VISIBLE METHOD IS CHANGING THE GAME

Our new employee Fran attended our Make It Visible Workshop - as a participant. Fran wrote about their experience. Hopefully, their blog entry will make this workshop more tangible for you and give you a better idea of what (and what not) to expect.

In April I was invited to participate in one of IN-VISIBLE BERLIN’s anti-bias courses. The trainings were evenly spread over two afternoons and were facilitated by IN-VISIBLE’s founder, Rea.

It was not the first time I had attended an anti-bias training. When working as an office assistant in the UK part of my onboarding process consisted of various online courses on the topic. Most of these trainings involved extremely dry, click-through presentations that I did alone, at my desk, without any input from colleagues or the ability to directly apply the knowledge to the space around me.


This is, I think, the common experience for so many of us when it comes to traditional anti-bias training. I would go as far to say that until very recently, even the mention of “anti-bias training” is usually followed by a collective “eye-roll” from the workforce across all industries and at all levels of seniority.


There will be no gender balance on the boards of German companies by 2062


It may solicit an eye roll, but the evidence shows that anti-biased training is still desperately needed in 2021. According to a study conducted by AllBright “at the current rate and trajectory of the situation, there will be no gender balance on the boards of German companies by 2062” (AllBright Stiftung). Pretty scary projections. And it’s not just Germany, across the world there exists observable and deep-seated racial, gendered and sexuality based inequalities when it comes to having voices heard at the table.


We all hold biases that are rooted in the ways we are raised and socialised


There’s a very simple logic at the heart of anti-biased training: that we all hold biases that are rooted in the ways we are raised and socialised. Harmful cultural stereotypes such as the idea that women are not good with logic-based thinking, for example, lead to decision making processes in the work place that stop women not only from getting the jobs they apply for, but also from thriving once they get there.


So how do we counter this process? How do we un-learn the harmful things we have picked up along the way? Not via a click-through presentation I’ll tell you that. What is needed is anti-biased training that is interactive, reflexive and accessible. To truly re-programme our unconscious brains we require guidance from someone who allows us to ask all of those “stupid” questions. We require a collaborative space that is both interactive and safe, that is facilitated by someone who has the communication skills to reach a range of people, from the knowledgeable to the newbie, because we all have unconscious bias is some form or another. The world gets better not when we acknowledge these biases, but when we actually start to challenge them.


As a community organiser and creative director, I would class myself as someone rather knowledgeable of on my own internal biases and how to combat them. But even my understanding and perception of self received a refreshing overhaul from Rea’s workshop. We were a small group made up of different backgrounds, genders and seniority levels. The trainings were completed via zoom using interactive tools and exercises and the content progressed evenly over the two sessions


Unconscious Bias Workshop in two sessions.


On Day 1 we focussed on the research and the background information needed to get to work on ourselves on Day 2. I’m not going to go into too much detail here as I want to encourage you, the reader, to invest in IN-VISIBLE’s work yourself. One thing that really did stand out to me though on Day 1 was the discussion raised by the concept of the “Identity Iceberg” – a useful model of human psychology that imagines our identities like icebergs: what we actually see of a person is just the tip of the iceberg that is our personal identities.


Rea uses this analogy to remind those of us in the workshop that what you can truly knowabout a person is, in reality, extremely limited. We were asked to think about how we think we are seen, vs who we are. The tip, vs the submerged mass. Analogies like this one, when used in group activities, really exposed all of our tendencies to make assumptions about people that we simply cannot make in today’s diverse and globalised society (i.e. origins based on birth name).


On Day 2, we came together again as a group all with a lot on our minds. Rea did well to read the energy of the group and pulled us through, giving us the tools to name and address the feelings and thoughts we were all having. By the end of that second session, we were armed not only with advanced self-understanding and reflexivity, but more crucially, with the tools to actually know what to do about it in our respective working spaces.


Too often, it is still all talk, and no action.


That was the difference, for me. Having done these things before. Not once after an anti-bias training in previous contexts had I actually felt that the facilitator had attempted to provide me with the tools to take that knowledge into my own work space, and transform it.


Knowledge without action in these contexts is as useless as lack of knowledge itself. That is, what I feel, traditional anti-bias training is guilty of. By failing to show participants how to implement their newfound self-understanding in their work spaces, traditional anti-bias training is part of the “Lip-Service” epidemic that is defining so much of work around fostering diversity and inclusion. It is still all talk, and no action.


That’s why IN-VISIBLE BERLIN’s workshopping style is so refreshing, so necessary and exciting. I encourage you to explore.

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