An appalling piece by a young female “journalist” in today’s Times which would be more at home in The Guardian. No mention that unconscious bias theory has been thoroughly debunked, its measurement likewise:
MPs undertaking unconscious bias training have been advised to think of unfamiliar people and situations as “mammoths” and consider how others might see them in that role.
The training, which was introduced for MPs after the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, has been piloted this month with smaller parties, including the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party. It focuses on addressing prejudices people may have absorbed without being aware of it.
Wendy Chamberlain, the Liberal Democrat chief whip, who previously worked in HR, said that the two-hour session was split into two parts, the first of which focused on how bias develops in people.
“Evidence is suggesting that unconscious bias starts to develop at a very young age,” Ms Chamberlain said. “It’s about familiarity.”
The training examined how humans developed a “fight or flight” instinct to run away from unfamiliar situations, citing the example of mammoths.
“What are the mammoths of today? The reality is that the mammoths of today are situations or people that are different,” Ms Chamberlain said. “If you had your experience of interacting with people from other backgrounds and of diversity, they are less likely to be mammoths to you.”
She added: “Biases are absolutely normal, it’s about how you act and what you do potentially to counteract them. That takes work and practice.”
Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney & Shetland, said that the training was just as much about getting MPs to consider that they themselves could be “mammoths” to others. “If you’re somebody who comes from a fairly ordinary background, sometimes the formality and grandeur around the procedures that everyone else seems to know can be off-putting and intimidating,” he said.
MPs were asked to imagine a scenario in which they received a letter containing racial slurs from a constituent with a noise complaint. They were told to consider whether they would deal with the complaint while ignoring the slurs, point out that they were unacceptable or refuse to deal with the constituent unless they retracted them.
They then also took part in a discussion about the use of language, including how to have forthright conversations without causing offence and how the term BAME — for black, Asian and minority ethnic — is falling out of favour.
Mr Carmichael and Ms Chamberlain said they found the training valuable and worthwhile. “It was mostly just an opportunity to be presented with situations where some of the perceptions that you might have of people are challenged,” Mr Carmichael said.
“I firmly believe that this training is something that will help MPs do their jobs better,” Ms Chamberlain said. “I’ve struggled to understand why some people are complaining. That suggests to me that they haven’t engaged with the topic and . . . they probably are exactly the kind of people who would find it of most benefit.”
Dozens of Conservative MPs have made it clear that they would refuse to undergo the training if asked.
The course has been offered to House of Commons staff since 2016 and its content was reviewed in May. In response to concerns about racism and discrimination in parliament this year, the Commons has established a high-level group to help to reduce inequality, chaired by John Benger, the clerk of the House.
A spokesman for parliament said: “We are committed to creating an inclusive workplace and, following requests from MPs, we have made unconscious bias training available to them on a small pilot basis.
“These are not mandatory, and the pilot is expected to be completed in the next few weeks. There are no plans to roll it out more widely.”
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