LANSING, Mich. – Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel joined a coalition of attorneys general urging President Donald Trump to rescind his executive order on “Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping” that could be misconstrued to prohibit implicit bias trainings for federal contractors and federal grantees. The potential chilling effect of this order in the midst of the nation’s reignited racial justice movement is of particular concern, as implicit bias trainings play a crucial role in furthering the goals of diversity, equity and inclusion.
The coalition seeks a commitment from the federal government to expand trainings aimed at understanding and combating racial injustice.
“Whether this executive order intentionally means to prohibit implicit bias trainings for certain groups or not, there is at the very least a possibility for it to be interpreted as such,” Nessel said. “The order must be revised to state full support for the use of these trainings to avoid any confusion on the matter, and to continue the progress this country has made in ensuring those from diverse backgrounds and ideologies are not subjected to stereotyping or other harms in the workplace.”
The vague and contradictory executive order decrees a federal policy “not to promote race or sex stereotyping or scapegoating in the Federal workforce or in the Uniformed Services, and not to allow grant funds to be used for these purposes.” The order goes on to provide a deeply troubling definition of “race and sex scapegoating” that gravely mischaracterizes how typical diversity and implicit bias trainings are conducted.
A primary goal of diversity training in the workplace is to raise awareness of the value of collaborating with people of different cultures, races, genders, ethnicities, ages, beliefs, experiences and ideas. The American economy has greatly benefited from diversity and inclusion training through a more informed and diverse workforce, which has increased ingenuity and creativity, produced dramatic increases in productivity and profits, expanded markets, and attracted diverse talent to American firms.
Attorney General Nessel earlier this year created a list of proposals for police reform in Michigan, with one of those being the improvement of police policies and trainings, including implicit bias trainings. Moreover, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive directive requiring state departments and other agencies to conduct implicit bias trainings for all state employees by Dec. 31, 2020, with biennial trainings going forward.
Science has demonstrated that all people possess implicit biases, a tendency to process information based on unconscious associations and feelings. Implicit bias is not always harmful, but when fueled by stereotypes implicit biases may impede collaboration and affect understanding, judgment, actions and decisions that unconsciously harm members of certain groups. To eliminate harmful bias, a conscious awareness of one’s own implicit bias is critical.
“Whether it is intended to ban implicit bias or unconscious bias trainings or merely has the tragic and foreseeable consequence of reducing this important work, we firmly oppose the Order’s application in our states,” the attorneys general state in their letter. “Unless the Order is somehow revised to provide clear and unequivocal support for the continued use of implicit bias and unconscious bias trainings, it should be withdrawn.”
Given the vague and contradictory nature of the president’s order, the attorneys general seek clarification regarding who the order would apply to, and whether the intention of the order is to unlawfully ban or direct the substance of diversity trainings by state actors. As state agencies and officials are frequent recipients of federal grants, the order could be misconstrued as intending to prohibit states from conducting implicit bias training.
“Equal justice under law will not be achieved until we acknowledge and reckon with the racial inequities that persist in our society,” the coalition’s letter states. “The nationwide movement for racial justice has heightened awareness of not only how we treat each other as individuals, but also the role systems play in affording, or restraining, the advancement of particular groups. Our workplaces, public, private and non-profit, are grappling with how to become more inclusive and equitable. To that end, government should expand and increase its commitment to trainings centered on understanding and combating racial injustice. Now is the time for greater communication and support for diversity, equity and inclusion, not less.”
In filing this letter, Attorney General Nessel joins the attorneys general of Connecticut, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Nevada, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont and Wisconsin.