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Google's Unconscious Bias Training Yet To Fix Diversity Problem

Google was the first high-profile tech company to initiate a diversity training program that sought to uncover employees' unconscious biases. The two-year-old program has yielded interesting results.

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Alphabet, formerly known as Google, was the first high-profile tech company to initiate a diversity training program designed to uncover employees' unconscious biases. The company garnered success in prompting other tech titans to follow its lead, but it has yet to move the mark on its workforce composition.

When Alphabet launched its unconscious bias training in 2014, the tech giant's workforce was made up of 30% women and 70% men. The proportion of African-American employees stood at 2%; Hispanic employees, 3%; Asian employees, 30%; and white employees, 61%.

Fast forward to a year later, the needle has largely remained nearly locked in the same position. Women accounted for 30% of Alphabet's workforce, while men stood at 70% -- unchanged from the previous year. Only slight movement was seen in the ethic compensation of Google's workforce, with Asian employees rising to 31% of the workforce in 2015 from 30% a year ago, and white employees dropping to 60% compared with 61% a year earlier. Hispanic and African-American employee numbers remained unchanged in their percentage of the workforce.

(Image: maybefalse/iStockphoto)

(Image: maybefalse/iStockphoto)

But similar to any new product launch, a certain amount of time is needed to see traction in the adoption rate. If Google's timing in releasing its diversity figures holds true to the past two years, the 2016 figures should be available in late May or June.

When the company in 2014 added unconscious bias workshops to its diversity training, it realized changing ingrained behavior would be difficult, according to its blog post:

Biases are shaped by our experiences and by cultural norms, and allow us to filter information and make quick decisions. We've evolved to trust our guts. But sometimes these mental shortcuts can lead us astray, especially when they cause us to misjudge people. In the workplace, for example, the halo effect can cause us to inflate performance ratings or in-group bias can lead us to overlook great talent.

Combatting our unconscious biases is hard, because they don't feel wrong; they feel right. But it's necessary to fight against bias in order to create a work environment that supports and encourages diverse perspectives and people.

With Alphabet rolling out its unconscious bias training to more than half of its employees, the company says it hopes to see results in the future. As part of its Unconscious Bias @ Work workshops, employees are given ways to look at how their unconscious biases can play a role in decision-making and interactions.

[Read Google Parent Alphabet Dethrones Apple as Most Valuable Company.]

But the more immediate result Google has seen with its unconscious-bias training has come in the way it's been embraced by other tech companies. Facebook, for example, jumped into managing bias with videos and training. IBM also offers workforce training on unconscious biases. Salesforce.com has an awareness training for managing biases. Microsoft has even made its training materials public.

Like Google, the rest of these tech companies will see whether this awareness around unconscious biases can make a difference in the form of the ethnic and gender composition for their workforce. The tech industry, after all, is driven by data in assessing results.

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Dawn Kawamoto is a freelance writer and editor. She is an award-winning journalist who has written and edited technology, management, leadership, career, finance, and innovation stories for such publications as CNET's News.com, TheStreet.com, AOL's DailyFinance, and The ... View Full Bio

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tjgkg
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tjgkg,
User Rank: Ninja
3/3/2016 | 10:13:50 AM
Re: PC Alphabet
There is so much nuance and lack of definition with the unconcious. No person is a perfect, objective judge of anything. "Training" replaces one bias with another. Hiring someone is a personal decision so there are going to be biases. Ideally you want to hire the best qualified candidate-but what determines "qualified"? Is it accomplishments, responsibilities, personality, ambition, drive? Even line items like accomplishments or positions of responsibility can be open to bias. And is some bias worse than others? Is a company that is biased towards hiring younger workers to establish a culture and not to pay for experience less guilty of bias than a company that is racially prejudiced? At the end of the day, everyone needs to act in a responsible manner and i think most companies do. However there is always going to be bias.
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
2/21/2016 | 9:50:42 PM
Re: PC Alphabet
Given how many people typically take part in any job interview process, I think the unconscious decision is a bit overrated here. Sure, if all 10 people who interview you are white men, and you're not white and you're not a male, you may be in for some unconcious trouble. I think that's where Google is in such trouble ... they are sooo white and so male that the group interview doesn't dilute their white maleness.
kstaron
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kstaron,
User Rank: Ninja
2/19/2016 | 7:51:12 PM
Re: PC Alphabet
I agree that we should just hire the best people. But unconscious bias might make the best person for job not feel like the best person for the job if we have a bias we don't know about. We all have biases based on how we grew up and who we saw do what and who was nice or mean or industrious or lazy within our circle of known people. This idea of what we decide on an unconscious level is a fascinating part of psychology going back to our evolutionary need to make sure things are safe. In the end, don't you want to make sure you hire the person you consciously decided to hire instead of your unconscious taking over and making the decision for you?
moarsauce123
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moarsauce123,
User Rank: Ninja
2/19/2016 | 7:53:59 AM
Do you know what this means?
"Only slight movement was seen in the ethic compensation of Google's workforce."

What is "ethic compensation"? Maybe the article was written on a mobile device with autocorrection and then never reviewed by an editor. If you meant "ethnic composition" then you should have written that. I give the benefit of doubt that this is an oversight. Now that it is pointed out please fix it in the article. Otherwise it remains a piece that comes across as written by someone clueless who loves throwing around words without knowing what they mean.

As far as unconscious bias and ethnic composition, this is a problem in all tech companies. I haven't been to all, but worked for or was in extensive contact with quite many. I think that at the time people seek employment in tech companies adjusting for unconcious bias is already too late. That has to happen way earlier.

What tech companies can do is give more candidates a chance. There are positions that require a basic skill set that cannot be acquired within a short time, but there are plenty of positions where this does not apply. Don't hire only the top graduates who did already a dozen successful projects, have 10 years experience, 10 years overseas, and are 23 year old white males. My last hire was interested in technology, but had zero experience in the area of expertise of the position to fill. During the short interview process (not the 12 weeks ordeal that many tech companies make people go through!) he showed clearly that he can look at a problem, grasp what the issue is, come to a proposal, and explain why he figured that this is how it should be solved. Yes, he missed a few aspects, but that was due to missing domain knowledge. It's not even a year since then and he is one of the most creative and productive members on the team, his contributions have the quality that one would expect from someone who did this for decades.

We also started a few years back creating paid positions for interns. One we hired right out of college, the others we often bring in for special assignments while they continue with the path they want to take. And as it turns out, all of them fall into one or more of the minority groups. We now also started hiring folks who are mid 50s or older, even a few who are more or less retired. They work part time or on special assignments and bring a lot of experience, some are full time and are happy to get a real chance to show what they can do even if they retire in a few years.

Fixing the diversity problem is easy when the often ridiculous skill requirements are dialed back. It matters what people can do for the company, not which certificates and degrees they have. That only shows they operate well in a classroom setting and managed to get enough money to pay for it. That may or may not relate well to the real world.
tjgkg
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tjgkg,
User Rank: Ninja
2/17/2016 | 4:08:52 PM
Re: PC Alphabet
Well stated. Even the NFL has gotten into the act with the gender issue. As part of their "Rooney Rule", the NFL is now requiring women to be considered for all positions, even coaching positions. Social engineering like this should stop. Let people go where they want without arbitrary quotas set by activists who have no life.
tjgkg
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tjgkg,
User Rank: Ninja
2/17/2016 | 4:01:55 PM
Re: PC Alphabet
Absolutely correct. This political correctness is killing society. Aside from watering down talent in the name of "diversity" it is preventing people from improving themselves because it is easier to go the victim route. Like the Oscar issue... It even is killing our sense of humour.
Michelle
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Michelle,
User Rank: Ninja
2/17/2016 | 2:17:38 PM
Re: PC Alphabet
1984, then Minority Report -- all the bad is buried in the mind and must be exposed. I think it's fine to understand bias, but I don't think companies need entire training sessions devoted to them. I don't think they're studying the affect of these training sessions on hiring where hiring managers are so aware of the bias that they select less than ideal candidates in an effort to add diversity to the workforce. This cirlces back to another issue of hiring because the candidate is a member of a certain group based on race or gender...
GAProgrammer
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GAProgrammer,
User Rank: Ninja
2/17/2016 | 1:55:07 PM
Re: PC Alphabet
Inline with your point, why not look at the INDUSTRY percentages instead of particular "flavor-of -the-month ethnic/gender group"? After all, how is a company going to hire 50% men and 50% women in an industry where 70%+ are men? When was the last time you saw a study on gender diversity in the home trash pickup industry? Or in the sewage cleanup industry? Or in the oil rig operation industry? Seems like cherry picking to me...

It's like all common sense has left us and political correctness has replaced it. The tech industry is supposed to be filled with some of the smartest of us - just sad.
tjgkg
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tjgkg,
User Rank: Ninja
2/16/2016 | 9:45:54 AM
Re: PC Alphabet
I am not sure the owners of a company are giving out ethnic makeup guidelines to HR. The policy for all companies is equal opportunity. HR's mandate is to screen resumes for qualified candidates. Job qualifications are sent to them from the hiring managers. 
PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
2/16/2016 | 9:32:58 AM
Re: PC Alphabet
@ I agree. In the end, those individuals in charge of hiring are in charge in determining who is allow in the company.  Many job seminars indicate to job seekers that is it know what you know, if who you know?  If that group of people in charge of hiring, do not want you to be part of their future team, they won't.  They would hire people who are more like them. 

 
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