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Four Things to Consider When Hiring an Implicit Bias Trainer

Four Things to Consider When Hiring an Implicit Bias Trainer

Starbucks closed its 8,000 stores on May 29th for implicit bias training, with a curriculum guided by former US Attorney General Eric Holder, Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, and President and Director-Council of the NAACP Defense and Education Fund Sherrilyn Ifill, among others. This is the second mass closing in the history of the 47-year-old coffee chain, and was precipitated by an incident in which two black men were arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks after asking to use the restroom.

Starbucks is not the only organization confronting implicit bias. Mega-brands such as H&M, Nike, Google, and Dove have endured intense backlash over racial and/or gender tone-deafness. While training is key to avoiding future missteps, what is often overlooked is the person who is actually doing the training. She or he is essential to ensure an effective outcome. An instructor must provide an open and safe environment for conversations that can often be awkward and uncomfortable. A successful trainer allows for ongoing dialogue and insight that contribute to a positive process.

Here are some suggestions on what to look for when selecting a trainer.

Check out their LinkedIn testimonials.

Take special note of endorsement's subtle points: audience interaction, takeaways, and presentation quality.

What about soft skills? Are the presenters seen as warm and engaging? Do they listen? Do they speak to the audience rather than at them? Regardless of the topic, no one wants to be lectured to.

[Related: Why Your PowerPoint Presentations Stink (No Offense)]

Hold a pre-meeting.

A presentation specific to your company’s needs will be much more effective – and have a deeper resonance with your staff – than a canned presentation. A pre-meeting will ensure a customized discussion.

Discuss their approach.

Implicit bias is a weighty topic. If the presentation is mandatory, staffers may approach the meeting with all the enthusiasm of a visit to the dentist. Discuss with the trainer how they approach the topic.

I start my implicit bias presentations with a card game: Buffalo, which was designed by Dartmouth University’s Tiltfactor Lab to subliminally address prejudice. It is a light, fun, and unexpected way to open a path to a deeper conversation.

[Related: How to Create a Free Flow of Information Between Leaders and Employees]

Review the trainer's history.

Implicit bias is a particularly in-demand seminar topic nowadays, and you'll want to watch out for presenters following the trend without the experience needed to provide meaningful dialogue and learnings. If they are relatively new to the topic, you may want to consider including more seasoned trainers in your search.

Corporations that overlook implicit bias training run the risk of reputation damage, loss of staff, bad press, and (in some instances) legal action. Having a trainer who is well-versed and skilled in presenting such a sensitive topic will assist any company – whether it’s a Fortune 500 corporation or a regional firm – minimize those risks, while also providing information to benefit the business and its staff long-term.

[Related: What Leaders Can Learn from the Parkland Student Survivors]


Jennefer Witter is the CEO/Founder of The Boreland Group Inc., a public relations agency that focuses on corporate and executive visibility. She is the author of "The Little Book of Big PR: 100+ Quick Tips to Grow Your Small Business" (HarperCollins), which devotes an entire chapter to media relations. Witter is also an in-demand speaker, with appearances at venues such as The Pentagon, Vital Voices Global Ambassadors program, the 92nd St Y, and The Brookings Institution. You can follow her on Twitter at @JenneferTBG.

Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.