People sitting at tables listening to a speaker at the front of the room.

Train-the-trainer course helps bring Bias and Belonging to local unions

The International Training Institute (ITI) facilitated its first Bias and Belonging Train-the-Trainer course for instructors from around the country in September. The two-day class consisted of the Bias and Belonging course previously presented to training coordinators in addition to a second full day of instruction on how to present this information to members of their home locals.

Dushaw Hockett, founder and executive director of Safe Places for the Advancement of Community and Equity (SPACEs), headed the training with help from ITI field staff representatives Lisa Davis and Dale Clark as well as Sam White, director of education for the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation (SMART) workers, and Aaron Bailey, from Sheet Metal Workers Local 66 in Washington, presented the class and provided a space where everyone could workshop how to most effectively present it to their members back home.

Approaches varied for everyone. Kalima Ramsey, a full-time instructor at Sheet Metal Workers Local 100 in the Washington, D.C., area, and Nick Limpel, part-time night time instructor at Sheet Metal Workers Local 18 in Madison, Wisconsin, had to prepare very different presentations for their members. While Ramsey will present the course to a diverse, yet politically divided, apprenticeship, Limpel will be bringing Bias and Belonging training to a local that hasn’t experienced much diversity.

“Your part of the country, your culture, generation, background, ethnicity, experiences as it relates to your nationality, gender or race — it’s really different,” Davis said. “Everybody showed up willingly, 100% ready to be there. And they were hearing some of these things for the very first time.”

Limpel wasn’t sure what to expect from the experience, and “in a good way,” he said, it was completely different than he thought.

“I wasn’t the only person sitting in class who had bias they didn’t know about. It helped to hear from others. It helped to hear that everyone has bias,” Limpel said. “In the end, the biggest thing I took away from the class is they allow you to recognize what bias is, and it’s up to you to decide what you do with it. My intent is to discuss this with people and educate them about it. Aside from professionally, I made an oath to myself to pay attention to it and be a better person myself, so it hit home in more ways than intended.”

Bias has a range. It’s rooted in upbringing and lives in the subconscious. A hiring manager may not realize they chose a new employee from their hometown, even though others were more qualified. A mother tells her daughter not to hang out with girls who dress a certain way because her mother advised her the same.

“Bias isn’t our fault, but it’s our responsibility to start talking about these things,” Davis said. “One thing this course does differently, it looks at bias as a cognitive or almost biological function. Everybody does it. Everybody has it. The more we can talk about it honestly and openly, the more we can start exploring those blind spots we might have, it helps to remove shame and defensiveness.”

Ramsey recognized her own biases, big and small — from the way she teaches her apprentices to how she advises her teenage daughter.

“It’s not just restricted to one nationality or demographic,” she said. “I was totally blind to the things I was doing. Just like Nick, you just want people to start thinking and then maybe they’ll start doing. The change starts with you.”

The Bias and Belonging class, as well as the train-the-trainer portion, is meant to educate members about bias, why it exists and the science behind how it works. This knowledge, hopefully, creates acknowledgement, conversation and thought as well as the ability to slow down and think before taking action.

“Moving forward, all of these instructors are going to be viewing the path forward, whether it’s the teaching or what they’re doing with apprentices or the interactions they’re having with their fellow instructors as different with this different perspective in mind,” Davis said. “That can make the difference as gathering information for growth not just individually but as a culture movement.”

Trainers, instructors, SMART members and humans — everyone makes mistakes. There will be mistakes made in the delivery of the content and in everyday life, but the course opens the conversation and gives trainers a forum to ask questions, workshop presentations and receive support even after the class is over.

“We may say something that lands the wrong way in our delivery of this content, or from time to time, in our interactions with others. That’s understandable,” Davis said. “What does need to happen, though, is we need to learn from it. We need to be able to view our mistakes as learning moments, take accountability for them and do better.”

Bias doesn’t just happen at locals that lack diversity or those that are politically divided. It’s everywhere, and getting the information out to where members can receive it and put it to use is the course’s primary goal.

“I feel like as a union, we’re heading in the right direction. The hope of this class is we can reach out to our members, have them see there is a problem and we are moving forward trying to address that problem,” Clark said. “It opens people’s eyes. It’s not just happening at their local; it’s happening across the country. We’re not trying to just help out at the local stance, it’s a nationwide stance.”

For more information about ITI and its available training curriculum, visit the website or call 703-739-7200.

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