Targeted unconscious bias training at one of Europe’s most challenging engineering sites

Dounreay looms large over the Caithness landscape in northern Scotland. Built in the 1950s, it is one of the most iconic sites in the history of UK nuclear power. Over 100 miles north of Inverness, it is also one of the most isolated. Once home to the country’s most prominent nuclear scientists and fast reactor R&D projects, it is now the most complex nuclear site closure project in Europe.

Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd, to give it its full name, is one of the Site Licence Companies tasked by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) with the challenge of nuclear clean-up and waste management in the UK.

We rolled out tailor-made unconscious bias training sessions to mixed groups of over 1,000 staff and contractors.

With a projected closure in the 2030s, the nature of the 1,000-strong Dounreay workforce – permanent and contracted – is changing. After the success of our other programmes across the NDA, Dounreay initially approached EW Group to run a series of one-hour taster workshops on unconscious bias and workplace inclusion, to gauge workforce appetite and response in this area.

Led by Ruth Overton, 240 people attended, resulting in a contract to roll out unconscious bias and inclusion training across the workforce. In collaboration with Dounreay, we designed a half-day course that would:

  • Define unconscious bias – the ‘What?’
  • Explore how unconscious bias can show up at work – the ‘So What?’
  • Develop skills and confidence to manage unconscious bias in self and others – the ‘Now What?’

We worked closely with the project team at Dounreay to get to know their unique operating context, and to build trust in the value of the programme. Ruth Overton returned as lead consultant, joined by Elonka Soros, Caroline Arnold and Yvonne Howard for the on-site delivery from February to September 2018.

“Working at Dounreay is a privilege: not only the stunning setting, but the collaboration and trust built with the team. Conversations with the workforce have been lively and engaged and embed recognition and management of unconscious bias as part of the safety culture at DSRL. As the programme has evolved, we have worked closely with the HR leadership team, to provide a team coaching space to plan how to implement the key messages practically across the workforce.”

Ruth Overton – EW Group Lead Consultant

Highlighting the real impact of unconscious bias – our actor-based video scenarios.

One challenge was to ensure that the content of the programme sessions would truly reflect what it was like to work at the site on a day-to-day basis. Using ongoing client discussions and feedback from our pilot taster sessions, we designed a bespoke set of workplace scenarios to bring the realities of unconscious bias to life for these very specific audiences. Our scenarios featured:

  • Our team of role-playing actors in a range of formal and informal workplace settings
  • Short-burst snippets of workplace conversations and interactions to highlight potential unconscious bias
  • Scripting and delivery in local regional dialect to boost engagement and relevance
  • Scenario content recorded by our in-house film crew for repeat roll-out, with subtitles

The scenarios enabled participants to engage in lively and thoughtful facilitated discussions around different types of unconscious bias, and micro-behaviours that can help or hinder an inclusive culture at work.

After our programme, 96% of participants felt they had a clear idea of how to behave inclusively at work.

All attendees to the programme were asked to complete an online evaluation survey both before and after their session. We co-designed the evaluation metrics with the Dounreay project leads, allowing them to evidence increased awareness around unconscious bias and its adverse impact on workplace culture:

Awareness of what unconscious bias is, its impact at work, and how to mitigate it rose from 11.5% pre-course to 73.3% post-course.

Awareness of the different ways unconscious bias plays out in the workplace increased from 19.2% to 75.6%.

Confidence in having a clear idea of how to behave inclusively at work rose from 61.5% to 95.6%.

After the programme, 82% of respondents agreed that unconscious bias is a topic that Dounreay needs to be discussing in order to improve how the company and the teams within it perform. We are also working closely with the HR group to track behavioural change over the longer term.

“EW Group worked with us to develop and deliver unconscious bias training for our workforce. They took time to understand the culture that existed within our organisation and tailored the training around this. In terms of our wider equality, diversity and inclusion aspirations EW Group have played a significant role in moving us forward.”

Graham Cameron, Head of HR, Dounreay Site Restoration Ltd

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