It's great to see that NASA have recently announced a $73,500 unconscious bias and diversity training programme for their employees. Whilst this might seem like a significant investment into what has traditionally been viewed as an intangible subject matter, more and more employers are conscious of the negative impact unconscious bias can have in the workplace. Creating a fully inclusive and respectful work environment is critical and directly impacts upon productivity, retention rates, profitability, reputation etc. - very tangible measurables.
However, creating a fully inclusive and respectful work environment is no easy feat. This is because, as human beings, we all have biases and typically we are completely unaware of them. This can play out in the workplace in many different ways but it's often the small things that, over time, can have a serious impact. Small decisions like who we choose to go out to lunch with, who we share a private joke with, who we sit next to in the team meeting, who we take the lift downstairs with at the end of the day - these are the sort of decisions that are easily influenced by bias but will often be made completely unconsciously. And it's also these sorts of decision that can quickly lead to people feeling excluded and treated differently.
To create a respectful and fully inclusive work environment requires everyone to be aware of how their unconscious biases impact upon the people around them. Very simply, it is about raising awareness. So it's wonderful to see such high profile organisations like NASA leading the way and championing the cause.
NASA is spending nearly $75,000 to teach astronauts and other employees about diversity and their unconscious biases. They have already hired a contractor to hold "dialogue sessions" about inclusion. The independent US governmental agency is also adding a new curriculum to their “Diversity Dialogue Project”.