Guide: Raise awareness about unconscious bias


One of the first steps towards unbiasing is education. External research shows that awareness of unconscious bias can lead to reversals in biased outcomes, and understanding of the unconscious biases that underlie beliefs may be necessary for changing attitudes.

In 2013, Google began educating employees and leaders en masse - creating Unconscious Bias @ Work and other tools - to start a conversation about unbiasing. This helped ensure that employees had a common understanding and language to talk about unconscious bias, and the platform to do so.

Guide: Raise awareness about unconscious bias

Understand the science

By understanding the science of unconscious bias you will be better equipped to talk about it (especially with skeptics) and tackle it within your organization. New research continues to be published on this topic so make sure to stay up to date on the science. Here’s a primer:

  1. Banaji, M. R., Caruso, E. M. & Rahnev, D. A. (2009). Using Conjoint Analysis to Detect Discrimination: Revealing Covert Preferences from Overt Choices.

  2. Brooks, A. W., Huang, L., Kearney, S. W., & Murray, F. E. (2014). Investors Prefer Entrepreneurial Ventures Pitched by Attractive Men.

  3. Bongiorno, R., Haslam, A. S., Hersby, M. D., & Ryan, M. K. (2011). Think Crisis–Think Female: The Glass Cliff and Contextual Variation in the Think Manager–Think Male Stereotype.

  4. Brescoll, V. L., Dovidio, J. F., Graham, M. J., Handelsman, M. J. & Moss-Racusin C. A. (2012). Science Faculty’s Subtle Gender Biases Favor Male Students.

  5. Hebl, M. R., Foster, J. B., Mannix, L. M., & Dovidio, J. F. (2002). Formal and Interpersonal Discrimination: A Field Study of Bias Toward Homosexual Applicants.

  6. Jones, K. P., Peddie, C. I., Gilrane, V. L., King, E. B., & Gray, A. L. (2013). Not So Subtle: A Meta-Analytic Investigation of the Correlates of Subtle and Overt Discrimination.

  7. Martell, R. F., Lane, D. M., & Emrich, C., (1996). Male-Female Differences: a Computer Simulation.

  8. Murphy, M. C., Steele, C. M., & Gross, J. J. (2007). Signaling Threat: How Situational Cues Affect Women in Math, Science & Engineering Settings.

  9. Rudman, L. A., Ashmore, R. D., & Gary, M. L. (2001). “Unlearning” Automatic Biases: The Malleability of Implicit Prejudice and Stereotypes.

  10. Welle, B., & Heilman, M. E. (2007). Formal and Informal Discrimination against Women at Work: The Role of Gender Stereotypes.

Guide: Raise awareness about unconscious bias

Partner with leadership

Once Google People Operations had a handle on the science, the team started a conversation with leadership to address the following:

  • Explaining why a focus on unconscious bias was important and why solving it was in the best interest of employees, candidates, and users. For example, by reducing the influence of unconscious bias teams are more equipped to hire diverse candidates, which in turn helps them create more innovative solutions.

  • Sharing the science so everyone could participate in an informed conversation about the topic. From hiring to promoting to funding, the negative influence of unconscious bias is well documented, and it's often useful and important to surface the research.

  • Revealing everyone's unconscious biases helped leadership realize this was something with widespread impact. The Implicit Association Test is a simple and scientific way of measuring unconscious biases across a variety of categories - race, weight, disability, age, sexuality, gender, and more.

Once leaders understood the importance, science, and ubiquity of unconscious bias, they began to help bring the conversation to the rest of the organization.

Guide: Raise awareness about unconscious bias

Watch Unconscious Bias @ Work

With leadership support, the Google People Operations team began building a workshop for employees - Unconscious Bias @ Work - to introduce the concept of unconscious bias and its impact. The workshop leaned heavily on external research and internal examples. Thousands of Googlers have participated in the 60-90 minute workshop, making it one of the largest voluntary learning programs at Google.

Check out this video of Dr. Brian Welle from Google’s People Analytics team presenting Unconscious Bias @ Work.

Guide: Raise awareness about unconscious bias

Learn about Google's workshop experiment

The workshop sparked many internal conversations and Googlers shared examples of how they were unbiasing the workplace. But the team needed to know if Unconscious Bias @ Work was achieving its intended outcomes. If workshop effectiveness wasn't measured, it would be tough (if not impossible) to know what was and wasn't working.

The team launched an experiment during new hire orientation where Googlers were randomly assigned to one of three conditions: (1) participate in a live workshop, (2) watch the self-study video of the workshop, or (3) receive no unconscious bias training (control group). Through a self-reported survey, the team found that Googlers who went through the workshop showed statistically significant increases in awareness and understanding of unconscious bias, and motivation to overcome it. Those who watched the self-study video scored on par with those who went through the live workshop. Results persisted even one month after the workshop, where a follow up survey revealed that workshop participants were significantly more likely to perceive Google’s culture as fair, objective, and as valuing diversity, than those in the control group.

How effective was Unconscious Bias @ Work? How Googlers who received the workshop training compared to themselves and others. Compared to themselves before the training, participants were +16 points higher in awareness of unconscious bias. Compared to others with no training, Googlers +12 points higher in understanding of unconscious bias, +4 points higher in motivation to mitigate unconscious bias, and +4 points higher in perceiving the culture as fair.

build Tool: Give your own unbiasing workshop

Once the workshop was piloted and its impact evident, the team worked to make it available to all Googlers by using a “train-the-trainer” approach - getting Googlers to teach other Googler facilitators. Tapping into a passionate group of employees across the company, the team equipped facilitators to teach Googlers on their own. In order to both recognize the contributions of volunteer facilitators and help hold them accountable, their managers were also made aware of the teaching commitments and the employee and cultural impact of the efforts.

An important part of training facilitators was helping them become intimately familiar with the science of unconscious bias. Google has a data-driven culture, so knowing the research inside and out was key to building credibility with workshop participants. Jason, a Google Product Manager and UB@Work facilitator comments,

“Without knowing the science and data behind unconscious bias, our work as facilitators would never have the credibility necessary for the program to succeed. Besides, it is absolutely fascinating stuff."

Customize and deliver your own unconscious bias workshop in your organization by using the below presentation and facilitator guide.

Finally, a lot of companies are devoting great effort to create more inclusive workplaces and tackle unconscious bias. If you don't want to customize your own training you can use Google's Unconscious Bias @ Work video, take Microsoft's self-paced online training, or review Facebook's unconscious bias training. We're encouraged as more organizations share this important content, and look forward to more sharing over time.

Make it your own: customize the tool below.

Google's Unconscious Bias @ Work Slides

Use and adapt this presentation to give your own workshop.

Google's Unconscious Bias @ Work Facilitator Guide

Print and use the facilitator guide with speakers notes, instructions, and annotations.

Guide: Raise awareness about unconscious bias

Learn about Google's unbiasing journey

While Google has been working on unbiasing the workplace for several years, it's still just the beginning. Watch the video below to see Brian Welle, Google's Director of People Analytics, explain Google's unbiasing journey.