by Becky Heidesch

Diversity & Inclusion . . . History, Progress, Unconscious Bias Training

After 20 years as a diversity search consultant and an entrepreneur specializing in numerous diversity related businesses, I’m just now able to fully comprehend and understand the various and often roll of the tongue, biases, and labels that describe a multitude of work related issues that many people face and experience every day in their working lives and professional careers.

Today we refer to these challenging, stressful, costly and at times hurtful work experiences as gender bias, age discrimination, unconscious bias, hate discrimination, bullying, queen b syndrome, napoleon or the little man syndrome, or simply being overlooked or pushed aside by the good ole’ boy network.   These dynamics are not only costing companies and organizations millions of dollars in achieving greater business profits and innovation, but also have a significant impact on the ability to attract and retain diverse talent.  According to Gaelle Ferrant & Alexandre Kolev, “The Cost of gender-based discrimination in social institutions” OECD Development Center, gender-based discrimination in social institutions costs up to USD 12 trillion dollars for the global economy.  That is just the cost of gender-based discrimination.

Sondra Thiederman, Ph.D, noted in The Hidden Cost of Unconscious Bias, that “we all know there is a high cost for bias in the workplace. Some of those costs are obvious: managers fail to hire valuable employees, the employee targeted of the bias is deprived of career opportunities, and the organization is at risk of legal ramifications.  Thiederman suggests that, these are the costs that show, that they are extreme and they have a major impact on the success of your team and your workplace.”

During the past several years, Silicon Valley has seen a number of new startups focused on unconscious bias and charging big bucks for this training.  According to Ellen Huet of Forbes, The Rise of the Bias Busters: How Unconscious Bias Became Silicon Valley’s Newest Target, Paradigm a diversity consultant company, charges anywhere from approximately $100-$250k for unconscious bias training for approximately 30-50 people. Think of the investment companies are now making in diversity training. It’s healthy to ask, how did we get here?

Google, in light of its pay equity issues of recent, revealed that it in the past it has put more than half of its employees at the time (then-50,000) in workshops on unconscious bias, specifically on how to understand and stop unconscious bias.  According to Ellen Huet, Forbes, The Rise Of The Bias Busters: How Unconscious Bias Became Silicon Valley’s Newest Target, “unconscious bias influences your decisions in ways you can’t notice and can’t control and in part, how a company of well-educated, well-intentioned people could still end up hiring mostly young, white and Asian men.”

As a female growing up in California, in a conservative, republican family, I know first-hand the differing mindsets of republicans and democrats and how families and history shape culture.  As a diverse business owner, I had the opportunity to create a women centric company and culture.   It has served us well over the years.  But unfortunately, changing culture in large organizations, especially in corporate America is like turning a ship around in the Titanic.  Here we are in 2018 and depending on the research, approximately 95% of CEO’s in the S&P 500 are men, yet research continues to show the business case for having women and diverse leaders.  For women of color the numbers are even lower.

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