PwC Makes Bias ‘Blind Spots’ Training Mandatory, but Is Training Enough?

PwC Makes Bias ‘Blind Spots’ Training Mandatory, but Is Training Enough?

Last week, PricewaterhouseCoopers revealed that it was making unconscious bias training mandatory for all new hires or employees who receive promotions, Kellye Whitney reported at CLO:

PwC announced this week that to be promoted or to join the firm as a new hire — currently more than 17,000 new hires join the firm each year — an individual must complete “blind spots” training, created to help people recognize unconscious bias related to ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. PwC’s new 4REAL (Recognize/Explore/Act/Learn) series is a video training curriculum developed to help people make better decisions, drive more inclusive actions and potentially have a positive impact on its teams, clients and, ultimately, society.

PwC was also the force behind the online “Gender IQ” training course launched in October by UN Women’s HeForShe initiative, which the accounting firm developed in-house as a voluntary program for employees. Chief Executive writer Dale Buss hears more from PwC’s US Chairman Tim Ryan about what motivated the firm to make bias training mandatory:

“The recent election [was] a very emotional one for many,” Ryan told Chief Executive. “At a time when it’s easy to focus on our differences, we need to act using our values. Doubling down on diversity [is] a reminder that I fully intend to put our values and purpose into action, reinforcing diversity as a core component of PwC and being a leader within the business community.” …

He said PwC would be the first of the traditional “Big 4” accounting-consulting firms to [implement mandatory unconscious bias training]. He said this “bold and concrete step” stems in part from the success of an initiative that Ryan launched last summer, called Color Brave, in which he tapped into employees’ angst about police shootings.

“The conversations were inspiring and reminded me that if I don’t create an open and empathetic workplace, other priorities—our clients, our people and our bottom line—will suffer.”

PwC’s goal here is commendable, but I would offer some words of caution: Research shows that mandatory bias training often meets with resistance, which is why many scholars recommend making this training optional instead. Furthermore, does this training work? Is it possible to effectively train employees to catch their own unconscious biases, let alone stop them? Studies have shown that mandatory bias training can actually increase bias in the workforce, worsening gender and racial inequality. Others point to a lack of evidence that investment in such trainings produce any measureable returns.

The NeuroLeadership Institute’s Dr. David Rock presents an alternative solution. Rock claims learning about bias does nothing to lessen it. Rather than investing in training to mitigate biases from people, Rock says companies must focus on removing opportunity for bias from processes:

As an individual, you cannot consciously ‘watch out for biases,’ because there will never be anything to see. Organizations and teams can become aware of bias in ways that individuals cannot. Team-based practices can be redesigned to help identify biases as they emerge, and counteract them on the fly, thus mitigating their effect.

If his theory holds true, PWC, Facebook, and others will have taken a noteworthy step to begin the conversation through training. But effective results will require tactical strategies that bring accountability into the picture. Companies need to look at the processes that result in unequal outcomes, identify points in those processes where bias is able to play a part, and implement strategies to fix those pain points.

CEB Corporate Leadership Council members can get more information via our webinars “Breaking Bias” with Dr. David Rock and “Overcoming Biases to Advance the Underrepresented Workforce.” And if you’re interested in digging even deeper, consider joining CEB’s Inclusive Executive Workshop series, with one workshop dedicated to advancing inclusion by overcoming biases.