Following Defense Secretary Ash Carter's announcement in December that women will now be able to join all ground combat units, the Marine Corps — the branch most opposed to the change — will now put all Marines through unconscious bias training to help adjust to the change.
The rollout, scheduled for this May and June, is set to take place before the first riflewoman heads to boot camp. Training teams will be dispatched across the globe to offer a two-day course to majors and lieutenant colonels, who in turn will train the Marines under them.
Only part of that training course will involve unconscious bias training, but it is perhaps the most important element in the military’s strategy to engineer cultural change in advance of a major shift in operations.
Unconscious biases, sometimes called implicit biases, are a set of automatic preferences so ingrained in people’s brains that they often don’t realize they have them. Unconscious bias is what often leads hiring managers, for example, to favor identical résumés from male candidates over female ones, or from white candidates over minorities.
In the past few years, unconscious bias training has become increasingly popular in the tech and business sector, who are facing gender diversity problems of their own. According to Forbes, business leaders rely so heavily on the trainings because they seem harmless: If biases are unconscious, employees can’t be faulted for holding them.
The military is likely leaning on these trainings for a similar reason. A leaked military report, which the Washington Post obtained in December, found that Marines in particular were strongly opposed to women joining combat ranks, with as many as 72 percent of junior Marines opposed to integration.
Though the military hasn’t spelled out the contents of its unconscious bias training courses, they will likely seek to address these specific concerns. Unconscious bias trainings that occur in business settings typically include activities that reveal to the participants their own biases — so they can work together to address them.
- Do you hold unconscious biases? Harvard University has put together a whole suite of exercises, called implicit association tests, so you can assess your own prejudices.
- Vox’s Jenée Desmond-Harris explains the intricacies of implicit bias.
- Does unconscious bias training actually work? The jury is still out.