Unconscious Bias & Inclusive Leadership

During 2016 and 2017, Steps worked with Penguin Random House UK to answer some of the questions surrounding Unconscious Bias and Inclusive Leadership with 500 of their staff.

What is unconscious bias?

How might it affect our decision-making? What can we do to create an inclusive culture? These are some of the questions to which answers are being sought during current workshops with over 500 staff, managers and senior leaders at Penguin Random House.


Some of the challenges posed by this kind of training are in pinning down the difference between words and their meaning (the gap between expression and interpretation), and the tension between instinct (I like this person and would like them on my team) and fairness (N has been here longer and is overdue an opportunity to work on a project like mine). The Penguin Random House workshops strike a balance between theory and practical, so that participants are exposed to current thinking around unconscious bias and how it can be demonstrated in the workplace, interspersed with practical exercises in groups.

Our Approach

Through drama-based scenarios, engaging table discussions, visual ‘teasers’ and facilitated, theory-based content around bias and its impact, each three-hour session encourages self reflection, team cohesion and a broader awareness of unconscious bias. Scenarios are all set in a publishing environment which is not Penguin Random House, so presenting familiar voices and situations, without making them too close for comfort.

The session starts with an exercise illustrating the almost entirely individual responses we make to words and ideas. Even when we are conscious of our individual biases or responses, this does not necessarily prevent us from reacting in a biased way. This focus on the individual is revisited at the end of the session – only this time with a practical goal in view. Individuals are invited to make personal pledges of how they intend to change their working practices as a result of the training, and Penguin Random House have produced handouts which reinforce the messages put across during the workshop.


Feedback has been extremely positive, with delegates commenting that “the dramas were so well acted and scripted – they really captured so many different issues and scenarios that come up in our company. It was fantastic for generating discussion and making you think about your own behaviour -I found it all really useful”. The personal pledges capture a range of behaviour change commitments ranging from speaking up in meetings, a promise to challenge less positive behaviour when it occurs and taking measures to encourage better feedback.

The Penguin Random House workshops, although condensed into three hours, provide a clear example of the Steps 4-stage approach to behaviour change: See It; Own It; Change It; Live It. The more individuals bring their own perspectives into workplace discussions, the livelier the debate and the more measured the outcome is likely to be – with a far greater likelihood of achieving lasting behaviour change that will bring positive benefits for the business.