Implicit bias training for small and mid-size businesses

Mojo Trek’s DEI from Scratch Series

While DEI has taken center stage in culture building and workforce transformation across the U.S., many companies lack the resources for expansive DEI programs. This is especially true for small and mid-size organizations. While limited funding and resources is frustrating, it doesn’t mean good DEI work must stop.

At Mojo Trek, we believe that DEI begins with an organization’s leadership. By establishing a commitment to DEI in the C-suite, a company can prioritize organizational change and implement a system of accountability. That’s why we’ve joined more than 2200 leaders who have signed the CEO Action for Diversity & Inclusion pledge. CEO Action was founded with the belief that diversity, equity and inclusion is a societal issue, not a competitive one. So, we are learning from the collective knowledge of companies at various stages in the D&I maturity curve. When advancing from an emerging to a basic D&I program, it’s essential to implement DEI strategies with the budget and resources available, an essential part of that program being implicit bias training.

Implicit bias definition

Implicit bias, commonly known as unconscious bias, occurs when we make assumptions about the experience, intellect, intentions, skills, abilities, and/or background of a person or group based on their appearance, behavior, or speaking style. Unconscious bias is automatic. The brain uses past experiences and relates them to new situations or individuals. It’s a common human behavior and “stems from our brain’s tendency to categorize things—a useful function in a world of infinite stimuli, but one that can lead to discrimination, baseless assumptions, and worse, particularly in times of hurry or stress,” explained by Stanford University psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt in the March 2020 issue of Science.

Examples of hidden biases in the workplace

  • Cultural Bias: Having a favorable response to someone’s name on a resume or application because it sounds culturally familiar.
  • Beauty Bias: Selecting a person for a job, leadership role, or promotion because they seem to “look the part.”
  • Gender Bias: Assigning work or rewards (pay, promotions, perks) to people based on assumptions about gender, such as men are the family breadwinners or women are better able to handle administrative roles.
  • Age Bias: Overlooking mature candidates for skill development opportunities or younger candidates for growth roles.
  • Affinity Bias: Favoring new hires based on shared attributes or experiences, such as hometown, alma mater, interests, or former employer, rather than for their skills and qualifications. 

How unconscious bias training changes workplaces for the better

Making teams aware of the hidden biases that can occur in everyday interactions has benefits that reverberate across all areas of the business and employment lifecycle. When people understand and identify unconscious bias, it can help businesses and their leaders to:

  • Identify automatic patterns of thinking to develop bias awareness
  • Build a more accepting and open workplace
  • Make fairer decisions and increase empathy
  • Spark curiosity across the organization to engage with people rather than make assumptions
  • Improve the retention and recruitment of diverse talent
  • Expand community engagement and connection

The dos and don’ts of effective anti-bias training

Unconscious bias training is not about righting wrongs, finding troublemakers, or exposing flaws. It’s about conversation, edification, and exploration. This science-based video from PwC exemplifies how DEI training can help us observe our unconscious biases and initial reactions, and take the time to process how our reactions and interactions align with our declared beliefs. What other Dos and Don’ts make unconscious bias training effective and supported?


  • Include everyone. From senior leaders to new hires and from the mailroom to the boardroom, everyone can gain something from learning about workplace bias.
  • Break it into small bits. It can be difficult to confront our unconscious biases, and these are sometimes difficult conversations. Rather than overwhelming learners with the data and emotional realities of unconscious bias in one large training, break up learning into smaller sessions to give people time to digest materials and gather their thoughts and ideas. Be patient.
  • Tap into free resources. Much work has been done on unconscious bias. Small and mid-size businesses (and even global giants) can tap into existing resources to create informative training sessions. Here are a few examples:
    • CEO Action – Rich library of tools and resources for companies who have made the pledge. Consider becoming a signatory and registering for networking opportunities that are available as part of the pledge.
    • SHRM – Curated tools from the Society of Human Resource Management
    • Academia – Universities across the country have made many of their training tools and research available, including these examples from UCLA  and SUNY schools of New York 


    • Debate. These trainings are at their best when they are open conversations where active listening leads to self-discovery. Remind participants to be curious but open and to listen with open minds and positive intent.
    • Expect instant results. This training is foundational work. It’s part of long-term culture building. Changing how people engage and shift from automatic response to mindfully considering the impact of their interactions takes time. Evidence of the long-lasting and slow-burning impact of valuable knowledge takes time.

What should unconscious bias training include?

With the abundance of resources available, diversity and talent leaders can design training specific to their workforce and culture. That said, there are must-haves that help unconscious bias training succeed. 

    • Sharing the “why?” Let learners know why this training is important to the business and the company culture. Share your goals for the training and let people voice their enthusiasm, concerns, etc. Transparency from the business and those participating will increase training engagement and results.
    • Definitions & meanings. There can be confusion when it comes to the language of DEI. Start by defining unconscious bias so everyone has a shared understanding and common language.
    • Real-life examples. Just as the “About Face: First Impressions” video from PwC or the many studies, such as this look at the emotional toll people of color face at work, there is plenty of data and experiences that come straight from the world in which we live. Allowing participants to share their stories while also taking a deeper look into the science behind unconscious bias is a way to balance personal experiences with broader world insights.
    • Providing time to speak. While training often means sitting and learning, DEI training requires engagement. Build in time for storytelling, sharing, questions, and discussion.
    • Creating next steps. What will the business and its employees do with their unconscious bias awareness? How will the knowledge and understanding gained support the greater DEI efforts across the business? Leverage training participants to determine what the business and its employees can and should do with the lessons learned.

For our team at Mojo Trek, the CEO Action pledge has provided a framework and resource for DEI program building. It’s an internal and public commitment organizations make to build workplaces “where all ideas are welcomed, and employees feel comfortable and empowered to have discussions about diversity and inclusion.” It’s a great place to get started just like unconscious bias training is a great first step to greater understanding and equity on the job.

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