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Forum theatre – a highly effective tool to raise awareness of unconscious bias in the workplace

By James Larter

Posted 01/02/2019

It’s fair to say that unconscious bias comes into our decision making process each and every day; we instinctively respond to everyday situations, form opinions, make judgements and choices, working from our database of personal experiences.

There’s nothing to say whether those decisions are right or wrong, or what the consequence of acting differently might have been, but it is important to build a deeper understanding of what made us behave that way, make those choices, and given a similar set of circumstances, would we do the same again?

And that comes down to raising awareness of how we engage with others and a need to move decision making from the unconscious, to a conscious balanced process.

Training, using drama based techniques, such as roleplay, realplay and forum theatre to create simulated workplace scenarios and conversations, enables participants to look into a behavioural mirror and observe a variety of personal behaviours in clear focus. It provides an opportunity for participants to experience first-hand what others see, and understand how actions may be interpreted by colleagues.

Done well, forum theatre enables individuals to identify with both the situation and the characters. For some, it’s a significant light bulb moment and a catalyst to change, as they recognise their own personal traits reflected back at them.

The learning takes on real meaning, by progressing the forum theatre scene to actively include audience participation. Participants are invited to stop, start and replay the scene and direct the actors to a more successful interaction – or even, step in to the scene themselves to assume one of the character roles and demonstrate what could work better to the group.

From an unconscious bias perspective, forum theatre provides an ideal opportunity to avoid direct confrontation and raise awareness without pointing fingers. It enables participants to appreciate how they interact with others and importantly how others may perceive their actions and choices – effectively addressing diverse issues from unconscious stereotyping, raising cross-cultural awareness, to managing discrimination at work.

It’s clear, that to build awareness both of unconscious bias itself and the impact it can have on the culture of the organisation as a whole, we need to create meaningful training solutions which make individuals truly think, and be aware of why they reach certain decisions.

We must give individuals the understanding, skills and practice they need to carry out their roles fairly, be that making balanced interview decisions, delivering inclusive customer service or building effective, productive teams.

If you want to find out more how we could help your teams become more aware of biases within your organisation, whether unconscious or not, please get in touch.

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