Developing scientifically validated bias and diversity trainings that work: empowering agents of change to reduce bias, create inclusion, and promote equity

Manag Decis. 2023 Apr 17;61(4):1038-1061. doi: 10.1108/md-06-2021-0839. Epub 2022 Sep 5.


Purpose –: Research consistently shows that non-scientific bias, equity, and diversity trainings do not work, and often make bias and diversity problems worse. Despite these widespread failures, there is considerable reason for hope that effective, meaningful DEI efforts can be developed. One approach in particular, the bias habit-breaking training, has 15 years of experimental evidence demonstrating its widespread effectiveness and efficacy.

Design/methodology/approach –: This article discusses bias, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts from the author's perspective as a scientist-practitioner - the author draws primarily on the scientific literature, but also integrates insights from practical experiences working in DEI. The author provides a roadmap for adapting effective, evidence-based approaches from other disciplines (e.g. cognitive-behavioral therapy) into the DEI context and reviews evidence related to the bias habit-breaking training as one prominent demonstration of a scientifically-validated approach that effects lasting, meaningful improvements on DEI issues within both individuals and institutions.

Findings –: DEI trainings fail due to widespread adoption of the information deficit model, which is well-known as a highly ineffective approach. Empowerment-based approaches, in contrast, are highly promising for making meaningful, lasting changes in the DEI realm. Evidence indicates that the bias habit-breaking training is effective at empowering individuals as agents of change to reduce bias, create inclusion, and promote equity, both within themselves and the social contexts they inhabit.

Originality/value –: In contrast to the considerable despair and pessimism around DEI efforts, the present analysis provides hope and optimism, and an empirically-validated path forward, to develop and test DEI approaches that empower individuals as agents of change.

Keywords: Bias; DEI; Diversity; Equity; Training; Unconscious bias.