Process: Improving on unconscious bias & anti-racism trainings and workshops for 2021

Stephanie Kuroda

CW: racial violence, death

When implementing a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training, some roadblocks are familiar: little to no budget, limited time, and employees’ varying degrees of previous experience and knowledge.

With that in mind, thoughtbot’s DEI council synthesized the team’s needs and wants, and in late 2019 thoughtbot rolled out its first company-wide unconscious bias training to all employees.

The goal was not to provide a complete training, but to introduce shared vocabulary and concepts that we could use during future workshops. Training was administered through an online learning management system (LMS) which also provided our sexual harassment prevention training.

The council collected feedback during and after with a post-training survey. Although much feedback was positive, we received valuable input on things to improve:

  • Some people felt they were being spoken about rather than spoken to.
  • Training prioritized white-presenting men or people who are new to the concepts.
  • Training focused on, but did not acknowledge that it centered, mainstream American workplace cultural norms.

And then

COVID-19 shut things down. George Floyd was killed and the world saw. People demanded justice. People tried to cope. More individuals and companies – including thoughtbot – internally and publicly acknowledged the presence of systemic racism and the need to combat it. Our CEO, Chad Pytel (who has since moved himself to the role of COO), posted that thoughtbot was Pivoting to Antiracism.

This wider sense of urgency and call for accountability in ourselves and others was an opportunity for thoughtbot to re-evaluate our standards as an antiracist company. thoughtbot should establish for itself what is expected, and we can use our training programs to educate and support employees on how to understand, embrace, incorporate, and live those expectations.

This year’s process

For 2021, the DEI council received more funds and is working with leadership to align annual goals. Other new steps of the process included:

  • Continuously questioning “who is this for” and who created the training content.
  • Creating a standardized request for proposal (RFP) which included the benchmarks we’d use for review.
  • Reviewing an open list of (at the time) 489 Black-owned DEI companies + Black consultants currently accepting new corporate clients (shared by DEI consultancy, Awaken), then sending RFPs to those who appeared particularly aligned with our needs.
  • Having multiple members of council present during follow-up interviews with selected companies, and involving employees from both US and UK in the RFP, review, and selection process.
  • Using benchmarks that specifically addressed employee feedback including, but not limited, to:
    • Does it avoid centering / prioritizing comfort of white-presenting people and other groups who have historically held power? If so, how?
    • Who created the content and is running workshops? What are the demographics of the company?

Why share this?

thoughtbot is still a majority white company. The first training was another small step, but it prioritized the comfort of white people. We need more support for people who are part of marginalized groups. We need more support for Black, Indigenous, and people of color folks. We understand the value of meeting individuals where they are, but we must forward our expectation of where people, society, and our company need to be.

Finding a better training was one of several goals for our company, including improving our hiring process, but the work cannot stop there. We believe it is possible to continuously learn and improve the way people work. If these issues are familiar to you, I hope you’ll be motivated to take similar actions. We won’t get things 100% right this year either, but I believe if we keep listening to each other and respecting and incorporating feedback, that we will collectively get closer to who we’re meant to be.