Monday 7 May 2018

Unconscious Bias Training

I recently attended unconscious bias training at work.  This training aims to help you to become aware of your own internal biases for or against any group and understand how this may affect the way you treat others at work.  The training was for managers, particularly those that recruit staff.  I attended because I advise on equalities issues for my organisation and I wanted to see how beneficial the training would be.  I also love the conversations and stories that sometimes arise in this kind of situation.

The training turned out to be not quite what I expected and felt like a bit of a missed opportunity in developing the thinking of some of the attendees.  Lots of PowerPoint slides and information on equalities legislation and not enough detail on what unconscious bias is and how we can recognise and mitigate against out own.  There were a few mistakes about Islam when religious custom was discussed, which set me off and I corrected the trainer a few times.  I don’t think this endeared me to anyone, especially the trainer, but I couldn’t help myself.  Worse of all the trainers own unconscious bias was showing – big time.  We all have these biases, but I am of the mind that if you are a trainer, then you should be a bit more aware of your own.

It got me thinking about my own unconscious bias and the eye-opening, mind expanding moment in my life that laid my own prejudices bare.  This was during hajj with my husband twelve years ago.  In the convergence of Muslims from every corner of the earth I was exposed to the incorrect stereotypes that lay buried at the back of my mind: rich, regal Nigerian women with their broderie anglaise shawls, dripping with gold jewellery, tall Chinese Muslims in their long Mao coats, the smiling sweet-natured old Senegalese ladies, the Kurdish ladies with pretty tattoos on their faces, white Muslims from Bosnia.    I remember hearing an American accent while doing tawaf (circling the Kaaba) and doing a double take when I found an African American family following us around – it seemed strange because it was an accent I had only ever heard on TV and didn’t expect to hear it in the Haramain (sacred place).

On reflection I didn’t think I was a racist, but these stereotypes were ones I had internalised without even realising.  Hajj brought them out in the open where they were exposed to examination and ultimately rejection.  This is one of the things I love about my faith: the rejection of racism and prejudice and the acceptance of all those that look so different to you as inherently valuable.  I am more than aware that many (most?) Muslims are not bale to live up to this ideal, but it is certainly something I aspire to insh'Allah.

“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted” ~ Quran 49:13

“O people, your Lord is one and your father Adam is one. There is no favour of an Arab over a foreigner, nor a foreigner over an Arab, and neither white skin over black skin, nor black skin over white skin, except by righteousness.” ~ Musnad Aḥmad (22978)

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