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What Are Bias Training Programs And How Can They Make Workplaces Safer For All?

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Companies all over the world have been involved in creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce that is able to combat unconscious bias.

Hence, bias training programs are an integral aspect of capacity building activities within workplaces. Unconscious bias within employees and supervisors can create barriers for accessibility and safety.

While legal mandates are in place to support marginalised employee groups in workplaces, biases still rise as an issue when it comes to microaggressions, recruitment practices or workload distribution and appraisal.

With companies look to hire people from diverse backgrounds, it becomes important to look out for the unconscious biases of the employees. Representational image.

What Is Unconscious Bias?

In simple psychological terms, bias is an inherent part of human nature. Hence, simple actions and decisions taken by workplace stakeholders can also be informed by biases.

Unconscious bias is an idea created within an individual’s brain based upon popular assumptions or a one-off experience. Biases do not always have to have negative repercussions.

However, the unconscious bias we are discussing today leads to systemic impacts on certain groups which needs to be combatted.

Unconscious biases in the form of giving preference to cisgender individuals over transgender individuals within workplaces, or creating no space for disabled employees within workspaces contributes to larger systems of prejudice.

These biases are not only harmful for certain sections of the society but also negatively impact how a business functions in a developing socioeconomic landscape.

What Are Bias Training Programs?

Bias training programs are an important way through which organisations can expose collective unconscious biases that exist within their workplaces.

It is an effective way to not only address unconscious bias but also reduce their negative impacts. Many training and awareness programs often fail to have the desired impact on creating a diverse and inclusive workplace.

This occurs mainly due to leaders and professionals within workplaces not recognising subtle ways through which they themselves might be contributing to biased workplace practices.

Moreover, a lack of bias training programs also fails to acknowledge how different training and awareness programs can have different impacts.

A compliance advisory for an organisation may function just to put legal redressal mechanisms in order without addressing the risk of sexual harassment at workplaces.

Consequently, the legal mandates fail to create a safe working space for employees within the workplace.

Bias training programs are an efficient way to reduce the risk of prejudiced behaviour within workplaces.

Bias training programs allow employees to acknowledge their biases and commit to do better. Representational image. Photo credit: Wim Klerkx.

This means that instead of wholly depending on legal mandates to take care of redressal once an employee has been negatively impacted, bias training programs aim to cut the risk of systemic barriers at the root.

With these programs, organisations do not participate in an activity without any measurement of how the activity has positively impacted affirmative actions within the workplace.

Bias training programs focus on eliminating negative unconscious biases on a larger corporate level instead of addressing isolated incidents.

One-time Interventions Not Enough

As discussed above, bias training programs have larger impact on how social groups interact with each other in workplaces.

However, a study in the Harvard Business Review states that though mostly all Fortune 500 companies have bias training programs in place, very few actually measure their impact.

Given a situation such as this, how do bias training programs impact social groups within workplaces?

The first pointer to address here would be if unconscious bias can be removed completely or does it always have some effect within workplaces? Pallavi, founder of Ungender, says:

“We have to understand that biases do not happen overnight. They are piled up, affirmed, confirmed, and established in a both conscious and unconscious manner; and the approach to de-root or shift them also requires similar approach.

One-time interventions and surface scratching can only do introduction to this aspect of one’s thought process, but to address it properly, i.e., to ensure that individuals identify their biases, how they manifest, and also learn the tactics to manage them, this is a long journey.”

Though it is not important to completely eradicate bias from employees and supervisors, bias training programs can help with creating an environment that eradicates biases turning into discriminatory behaviour.

Moreover, measurement and data collection for bias training programs is another important way to address how these awareness programs impact workplace capacity building.

Bias training programs are also important for social groups to acknowledge their privilege and address their preconceived mindsets to do better moving forward.

Measuring Impact Is Important

Social groups interact in different ways in workplaces. While some social groups are naturally given advantage over other, some have to face the brunt of unconscious bias having negative impact on their work spaces.

Measuring impact of bias training programs or diversity and inclusion programs otherwise too help in manifesting impactful changes.

Consequently, having access to a consistent training program that addresses biases within workplaces can help uproot unconscious biases before they take shape into negative discriminatory behaviour.

Bias training programs with effective measurement tools and impactful strategies can help address long lasting biases within workplaces.

Featured image is for representational purposes only.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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