PwC to mandate unconscious bias training

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In 2016, the news was filled with troubling stories of deadly encounters between police officers and people of color.

For PwC Chairman Tim Ryan, it was the shootings in Baton Rouge, La., Falcon Heights, Minn., and Dallas that shook him up.

“Wondering if my colleagues were feeling the same way, I sent a note out to the entire firm that morning expressing my grief and sadness while still knowing that wasn’t enough,” Ryan wrote in a company blog post. “I wanted to do more. So, I called for a firmwide discussion later that month at which I asked our people, who had only begun to get to know me, to join together in small settings in their respective offices and talk about race.”

Those conversations led to the creation and implementation of “blindspots” training, which helps employees identify and address potential unconscious biases through a video curriculum. Beginning in December, new hires and employees receiving promotions will be required to participate in the training.

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Although PwC promotes about 7,000 employees and hires about 17,000 workers annually, the accounting and consulting firm is encouraging the entire workforce to participate, says Elena Richards, minority initiatives & talent management leader at PwC’s Office of Diversity.

“Something we value is trying to get more of the organization comfortable with unconscious bias,” she says. “It shouldn’t just be for your black professionals, it should be for everyone, no matter how you’re feeling.”

PwC worked with Mahzarin Banaji, a psychology professor at Harvard University and one of the leading researchers on unconscious bias, to develop the program, Richards says.

Employees have access to reference guides and four interactive videos that follow a “Pick Your Adventure” format. The videos, while depicting a fictional company, offer real-life work scenarios and sitcom-esque humor.

Richards says the hour-long program explores the potential impact of split-second decisions employees make without conscious thought. It also offers insight on how different people in varied roles, such as women, people of color and interns, see the same scenario unfold in different ways.

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“We are dealing with the things we’re dealing with outside [the office] and know that we have colleagues we could talk to internally,” Richards says. “The social things that are happening outside are something we all have to deal with and become much more comfortable talking about.”

Implementing a program

So what can employers do to develop a similar program and foster a supportive work environment?

Employers already have the information they need, says Tony Greenwald, a leading researcher on unconscious bias who has collaborated with Banaji for more than 30 years.

“Organizations and top administrators need to do critical work identifying where unintended discrimination is occurring,” says the psychology professor at the University of Washington. “Data is a strong emphasis.”

First, employers should use personnel folders to identify how the company hires, evaluates, pays, promotes and terminates employees, says Greenwald, who was not involved in the development of PwC’s program.

That data will help employers determine trends in their policies.

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While hiring is generally the easiest way to bring in underrepresented minorities, looking at promotion data can transform an organization’s makeup.

For example, white men are more likely to be promoted by other white men. If a firm’s managers are more diverse, that group might be more cognizant of promoting people equally or proportionately.

Greenwald says creating a metric as such is an excellent opportunity for executives and administrators to solve a problem in the workplace.

With a more diverse workforce, employers can track the data and adopt policies to understand why implicit bias occurs, whether the company is doing something about it and see if improvements occur over time.

However, Greenwald notes that an implicit bias program, coupled with improving the workplace’s diversity, is not a quick fix.

“One of the mistakes people make is that [the] education we’re going to give you is going to get rid of your implicit bias,” he says. “We’re pretty much stuck with the implicit bias that our culture creates. We need to operate without letting those implicit biases intrude.”

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