29 August, 2023, New York, United States – The United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) welcomed Dr. Lori Foster, professor of Organizational Psychology at North Carolina State University, Visiting Scholar at Duke University’s Center for Advanced Hindsight, Honorary Professor at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, and President of the International Association of Applied Psychology, who gave a training to UN Department of Safety and Security (DSS) staff on Unconscious Bias.
Over 40 DSS staff members attended the training across two four-hour sessions, most voluntarily, citing “improving job performance”, “personal interest”, and “professional development” as some of the major motivations for joining the seminar.
The seminar began with a brief introduction to the topic of the day, a definition of unconscious bias, and the objectives, followed by a discussion amongst the DSS attendees about what unconscious bias might look like in their respective units. Some of the examples included subconsciously favoring members of one’s own community, speakers of a common language, or prejudging someone based on their clothing or occupation.
During discussions, many participants noted that bias is often cyclical, whereby a past negative interaction can influence future interactions.
After a short break, Dr. Foster gave several examples of a common bias known as gender bias, and how research shows this type of bias may appear in work environments. These include microaggressions, talking over, double standards, unequal workload distribution, such as “assigning administrative tasks to women”, and often unintentional, common phrases such as using the term “guys” to refer to a group.
Dr. Foster then introduced the group to the psychological reasons for the occurrence of unconscious bias and provided definitions for other common types of bias such as confirmation bias and stereotyping before going into the final group activity of the session.
Participants gathered into groups and discussed several case studies of incidents of unconscious bias in international work contexts, and how those situations might have been handled differently.
For the final portion of the session, Dr. Foster introduced ways to combat unconscious bias. She explained the difference between “growth mindset” and “fixed mindset” and went over a few strategies for participants to apply to their daily lives, including seeking feedback and employing self-awareness and reflection. She ended the day by leaving participants with the challenge of consciously reducing bias in their lives and to share what they learned from the workshop.
UNITAR thanks Dr. Lori Foster for delivering an engaging and interesting workshop on a topic everyone at DSS can relate to. We look forward to future collaborations with DSS and Dr. Foster.