SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook has developed training to help employees recognize bias in the workplace and call it out.
And starting Tuesday it’s sharing the training online so anyone can view it.
Facebook is one of a growing number of companies educating employees on the hidden biases that everyone harbors in hopes of creating a corporate culture more welcoming to different people and ideas.
People unknowingly take unconscious mental shortcuts based on social norms and stereotypes, social psychologists say. And those mental shortcuts creep into the workplace, leading companies to hire and promote more white men, pay them more than women and minorities and foster corporate cultures where anyone not part of the dominant group feels alienated or excluded.
Tech companies are trying to shift their work-force demographics by making employees more aware of their own unconscious biases and helping them address bias when they witness it in the workplace.
It’s an imperative in the tech industry which is trying to address a yawning gender and racial gap.
Hispanics represent just 4% and African Americans are only 2% of Facebook’s U.S. workforce. More than half — 55% — of Facebook employees in the USA are white, while Asians make up 36%. Around the globe, 68% of Facebook employees are men.
Facebook reported its latest diversity figures in June, showing little change from a year earlier despite a slew of efforts to recruit and retain more women and minorities.
Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg says unconscious bias training is one of the most important initiatives companies can undertake to push for greater diversity.
“Studies show that job applicants with ‘black sounding names’ are less likely to get callbacks than those with ‘white sounding names’ – and applicants called Jennifer are likely to be offered a lower salary than applicants called John,” she says. “And organizations which consider themselves highly meritocratic can actually show more bias.”
Awareness of unconscious bias has increased with the Implicit Association Test. Millions have taken the online test, which measures racial prejudices. But only in recent years has bias training gained broader acceptance and adoption in corporate America.
Google was the first major technology company to call out unconscious bias for contributing to the systemic lack of diversity in the industry. The Internet giant began training its workforce in unconscious bias with a 90-minute lecture in 2013. Now it also holds “bias-busting” workshops, hands-on sessions that coach Google employees on how to recognize and root out hidden prejudices.
Code2040 co-founder and CEO Laura Weidman Powers says she’s pleased to see major technology companies which once refused to reveal the lack of diversity in their ranks begin to openly discuss unconscious bias and begin to educate themselves and their employees.
“Facebook’s unconscious bias training lays out what decades of social psychology research has consistently shown: We all have biases and some of them are based on race and gender,” Powers says. “This truth, and the accompanying impact on success in the workplace, uncontroversial in social science, has yielded a series of reactions in (Silicon Valley) over the past three to four years: first vehement denial, then self-conscious hand wringing, now, finally, we’re moving towards self-reflection and open conversation.”
Powers hopes to see an even deeper commitment from the major tech companies.
“Companies like Facebook and Google embracing unconscious bias training as a core part of their learning and development is an important step towards closing the diversity gap in tech. The next critical step is to equip teams with the ability to translate awareness into impactful action,” she says.
Freada Kapor Klein, founder and board chair of the Level Playing Institute, commended Facebook for making an “accessible” video that offers practical tips and important reminders such as “small changes make a big difference” in checking assumptions about people and groups.
“Hidden bias keeps all workplaces, especially tech, from being true meritocracies,” she says.
Facebook has been offering unconscious bias training since late 2013, but deployed the latest version which it developed with researchers this year. Facebook is making the video portion of the presentation available online. Facebook’s course consists of case studies, workshop sessions and presentations and focuses on four types of bias.
“A lot of companies don’t have the resources to build this kind of training and we are happy to give it to them,” says Facebook’s global head of diversity Maxine Williams.
So far 90% of Facebook’s senior leadership has taken the course and a “high” rate of managers, while the training is rolling out more slowly to the rest of the work force, Williams says.
“It’s going to take a little while before everyone has done it internally but we are well on the road,” she says.
You can find the training at managingbias.fb.com.
Follow USA TODAY senior technology writer Jessica Guynn@jguynn
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