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Can Training Eliminate Biases? Starbucks will test the thesis



Academics studying subconscious prejudice say training can help to alleviate them. In a study attended by five high schools in California, math teachers were asked to explain the reasons why students could misbehave, and they should be urged to make students feel heard and respected. They were then asked to write down how these concepts are applied in practice, a technique that helps people internalize material.

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Following the arrests, Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO, wanted anti-bias training for his workforce. Credit
Jason Redmond / Agence France-Presse – Getty Images

Researchers found that dropout rates in these schools declined sharply for groups of students who were traditionally suspended at very high rates and who may have been prejudiced. Jason Okonofua, social psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, the lead researcher, said that "interacting with other people makes us more attentive." "It turns into the person of the other, seeing the humanity in that person."

Some workers have seen the benefits of these exercises and Darion Robinson, a volunteer and community engagement coordinator at the City Garden Montessori School in St. Louis, said he had completed a three-day anti-bias training course when he arrived in July

"I think it has pushed people to be open and to have real conversations about things," he said.

Other academics and experts in prejudice Warn that anti-bias training is a sensitive exercise that can be ineffective or even fail when treated incorrectly – any workout that requires it Seth Gershenson, an economist at the American University who has also studied anti-bias training, says it is likely to shed its prejudices, because it requires so much mental energy that it can exhaust people. [19659010] Even with training, some said, it's extremely easy to return to the original bias. "At the moment of stress, we tend to forget about our training," said Mark Atkinson, CEO of Mursion, who provides a simulation platform for training workers in skills such as interpersonal interactions.

Mr. Atkinson said Mursion is trying to solve this problem by using very lifelike avatars to simulate real interactions. "They want to give people repetitions under stressful circumstances," Atkinson said.

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Protesters gathered at Starbucks in Philadelphia on Monday, which became the center of the protests. Credit
Jacqueline Larma / Associated Press

Some experts argue that the most effective way to eliminate unconscious bias is to limit the extent to which people engage in automatic, reflexive thinking. One solution is to get workers to make more thoughtful and advisory decisions.

In a study involving the Seattle Police Department, researchers randomly selected a group of officers to meet with their sergeants. Minute talk about a recent meeting with a citizen. The encounters often involved minor issues such as loitering – a situation comparable to that of Philadelphia Starbucks. Over a six-week period, the officers selected for these talks were 12 percent less likely to solve an arrest incident.

"We've got the police officers to slow down their thoughts," said Emily Owens economist at the University of California, Irvine, who was one of the researchers. Although the study did not explicitly examine racial arrest rates, Ms. Owens argued, "If you do not automate and think slowly, bias will affect your behavior less." (Ms. Owens emphasized) that the study was only suggestive and that the evidence of the effectiveness of bias training for the police as a whole is very poor.)

However, Joelle Emerson, managing director of Paradigm, argued that companies had strategies to increase Discrimination on the whole can be a far more effective way of reducing bias than trying to change your thinking.

Employees often have well-understood policies that leave less room for discretion to avoid making decisions that reflect bias, "said Ms. Emerson, whose firm advises several retailers. For example, instead of urging employees to look for suspicious-looking customers to contain shoplifting, which may cause sales reps to follow customers of certain races at disproportionate rates, businesses that are struck by theft could be a clear, consistent one Security Protocols Used

"The whole challenge of implicit bias is that we are not the best judges in influencing us," she said. Emerson pointed to the setting, another area that is often full of unconscious prejudices. Many companies, including some of their clients, such as Pinterest, have moved towards a more structured hiring process. For example, to remove subjectivity from interviews, her company often encourages managers to come up with examples of better or worse answers to questions.

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