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News & Analysis

Australian startups can learn a lot from Facebook’s unconscious bias training

- August 24, 2015 2 MIN READ

Yes, Facebook likes to position itself as the solution to many of the world’s solutions these days, and yes, it can get quite tiring. But the organisation’s “Managing Unconscious Bias” training which it launched last month is perhaps one of the most important contributions it has made to the global business community to date.

Silicon Valley is not immune to racial and gender diversity issues – something that affects technology ecosystems in every city around the world. Facebook has so far given the training course to over half its global workforce, and has now put a condensed version of the training online for others to use.

The important thing to remember is that the training helps people become more aware of their ‘unconscious’ biases, meaning you might not necessarily recognise that you harbour certain thoughts or feelings about particular topics. The other important aspect that Facebook address really well within the training is the fact that these ‘unconscious’ biases that we have as humans are natural and in a lot of cases important and help us keep safe. For example, when we see a snake or a spider, particularly in Australia, our brain naturally uses short cuts to tell us the creature is dangerous and we should not touch it – in such a case, our unconscious bias is protecting us.

However, it is when we allow this bias to influence hiring decisions and form opinions about people that it becomes problematic. It starts to not only impact how diverse a company is, but it begins to play a role in blocking people from reaching their full potential and perhaps having the opportunity to do a job they may have been better suited for than the candidate that was actually given the job.

In one of the training videos, Lori Goler, VP of People at Facebook, states that companies that leverage diversity have better performance and stronger results. Considering most tech companies are global platforms, this makes complete sense – diverse teams are a surefire way to make sure that a product is being created for a well-rounded community.

While Facebook itself is indeed no shining beacon of diversity as Re/Code’s Kurt Wagner has pointed out – 68% of its employees are male and 94% of the companies tech roles are held by white or asian employees – what is important is that the organisation has gone beyond the regular rhetoric of talking about the diversity problem in tech and has created something that is a great first step in being able to address it and understand it in a tangible way.

From a personal perspective, I have been educated a lot around my own “Unconscious Bias” in the last couple of years as we have built out the Startup Daily team. I am lucky that from the outset that my core team have been diverse in both gender and race because diversity breeds more diversity and although we are a small team, I would hedge my bets on the fact that we are the most diverse media team (gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, etc) within Australia’s startup ecosystem.

Australia, being a multi-cultural country, has a responsibility to be as diverse within our workforce, especially within the technology sector for us to be taken seriously as a competitive global player. Addressing unconscious bias within an organisation pre-emptively at the beginning before the company begins to grow and develop its culture will go a long way in creating an even playing field for everyone.

The training can be accessed here: managingbias.fb.com