Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity training is important [Here's the right way to do it]

Training for diversity and inclusion is becoming more and more common in the workplace. But having a DEI strategy isn't enough and sometimes it can do more harm than good. In this article, we break down how to do diversity and inclusion training right with several examples.

Meryl D’Sa-Wilson

Published on 

December 7, 2022

Updated on 

Time to Read

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In 2018, two African-American men were in a Philadelphia branch of Starbucks waiting for their friend to arrive without having ordered anything. An employee called the police on them, and the men were arrested, despite having done nothing wrong.

The incident quickly became a national story and a PR disaster for the Seattle-based coffee conglomerate. For one day, Starbucks closed every single one of their branches in the USA to hold a diversity and inclusion training session. As we'll soon discover, the response was mixed.

No matter what sector you’re in, diversity and inclusion training is essential. 

But ss diversity training worth the time and effort that goes into organizing and executing it? And how do you quantify the results? 

While diversity and inclusion awareness is continuously growing, not all businesses see the importance of having DEI training. But such training has much to offer, especially when done right.

Let’s look at what diversity training includes, where businesses get it wrong, and how training can help organizations improve their diversity and inclusion initiatives.

What is diversity training?

Diversity training refers to any training program created to facilitate constructive and positive conversations and interactions with people from diverse cultural backgrounds. Everyone can participate in diversity training.

Such a program is designed to increase awareness and understanding of different types of diversity and to strengthen interpersonal skills among your diverse workforce.

Common goals of a diversity training program include: 

  • Promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace
  • Bringing awareness to diversity and inclusion issues
  • Developing skills such as identifying, confronting, and reducing bias 
  • Combating microaggression, prejudice, and discrimination
  • Increasing multicultural awareness
  • Creating new ways to communicate
  • Building an inclusive workplace and more.

Where do most organizations go wrong with diversity training?

Diversity programs have increased in prevalence over the years. This comes after numerous high-profile studies confirmed the benefits of having a diverse workforce.

However, if not done right, these programs can fail to achieve key diversity goals. And this can then lead to further discouragement and lower rates of buy-in from management.

So, why are these programs failing, and how can your organization avoid that? 

Let’s have a look:

Not understanding the main purpose of diversity training

Without proper goals in place, your organization and employees may not be on the same page regarding the overall purpose of diversity training. 

  • Why is your organization investing time in this? 
  • What are you hoping to achieve?

Making this clear from the get-go ensures that you are not alienating anyone and that everyone sees value in the process.

Measuring success inaccurately 

Research has found that, in most cases, diversity and inclusion program success is attributed to simply completing training instead of seeing clear progress toward its goals. 

In other words, most training ends after a lecture or online course. But improving workplace diversity is much more than that and takes place over years.

Only planning short-term activities 

Short-term training and activities are not as effective as long-term strategies. 

People’s thinking and behaviors will not change overnight. So, a training program or educational series that happens once every 4-5 years may not make any significant dents. 

Telling people how to feel or what to do 

Self-motivation and autonomy seem to be a more effective way to exact change than exerting external controls. 

Research by Dobbin & Kalev found that forcing mandatory training and participation can lead to blowback as well as more explicit and implicit prejudice. 

In some cases, it may even reinforce stereotypes which defeats the whole purpose of diversity training.

Sticking to only training 

Discrimination and prejudice emanate from long-held beliefs and habits. 

They are not easy to change, and research claims that simply changing unconscious bias do not guarantee a change in discrimination (Dobbin & Kalev). So, training alone cannot lead to larger diversity-related changes. 

Coupling training with the wrong complementary measures 

The most effective diversity and inclusion programs bake diversity training into larger initiatives that improve conditions for minority groups in the workplace (Dobbin & Kalev). 

These might include reviewing and expanding the hiring and retention process, providing more mentorship and L&D opportunities for people of color, starting a returnship program for moms returning to work, and more.

Not involving managers and decision makers

Bringing your managers into the process not only increases the value of the program but also puts them in contact with people from different gender, ethnic, and race groups (Dobbs & Kalev). 

They can then help mold these minds, identify and brainstorm to solve problems and have a more direct impact on change. Plus, they set a good example for others in the workplace to follow.

What’s the main takeaway here? 

To improve the effects and results of your diversity training, you need to expand and make it a part of a much wider action for change. And this is a long-term process requiring more thought and intentional actions.

Why is diversity training important?

The benefits of diversity and inclusion training are paradoxically both measurable and immeasurable. McKinsey found that diverse companies were around 35% more likely to enjoy above-average profit margins in any given year. 

That same McKinsey report found that "ongoing diversity and inclusion training is a key factor to retaining diverse talent within an organization"

McKinsey study shows the advantages of having a diverse workforce.
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From hiring skilled talent to empowering your employees so they can perform better, there are many ways that diversity training can help your organization, employees, and customers. 

Here are some reasons why diversity training is important:

1. Attract new and high-potential talent

When you expand your talent pool, you increase your chances of recruiting bright and high-potential individuals

Hiring from different backgrounds doesn’t only support your DEI goals but also lets your business benefit from those cultural perspectives. And these perspectives bring innovation, collaboration, creativity, and more, supporting both employees and customers. 

2. Provide support for diverse employees

Part of diversity training is understanding the various issues people from different races, genders, ages, ethnicities, and more, face. 

By identifying and paying attention to these issues, your organization can brainstorm and come up with different diversity activities to support these individuals and help them succeed in the workplace.

For example, you can run a returnship for moms returning to work or seniors wanting to jump back into the workforce. Or, you can organize Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) where people who identify with a certain group can join and build a community of support.

3. Increase employee engagement and retention

One of the most important points of diversity training is to create a safe and comfortable work environment. And training does so by building trust and making employees from all backgrounds feel comfortable, heard, and seen. Conversely, employees who aren’t happy in the workplace will leave to find a better option or drop in productivity.

As we already know, trust between groups is crucial in any environment and any long-lasting relationship. So, when employees can trust and depend on one another, they generate a positive and productive workforce where they want to perform well. 

Additionally, they also buy into your organization’s mission to support people from different cultures. These employees want your business to do well and will stay on to help achieve these shared goals.

4. Diversify leadership through mentoring and sponsoring

Level the playing field for employees from different genders, cultures, ethnicities, and more. You can do this through mentorship programs where you pair these individuals with an existing manager who can help them grow in the position and develop the necessary skills to become a leader themselves. 

In fact, when mentorship is offered in a workplace, about 74% of employees from minority backgrounds participated.

This also helps leaders better understand the different struggles minority groups face in the workplace. And awareness can lead to a desire to implement more change.

Similarly, integrate sponsorship and L&D opportunities into your organization structure so that employees who seek such support can easily get it. This way, your organization continuously nurtures future leaders and builds a more diverse team.

5. Develop better and targeted products and services

When you have people from different cultures and walks of life working together, you will experience a burst of creativity and inclusion. And this can influence different parts of your business, including your branding, position, and marketing messages. 

If you’re looking to expand your business and tap into new markets, a diverse workforce can help you better understand cultural norms, regional celebrations, historical references, and more. And you can use this information to produce more targeted and relevant services. 

Gradually, you can grow a global, diverse customer base as well.

Pair your diversity training with mentorship

As we’ve mentioned, mentoring programs are a core ingredient to a successful diversity and inclusion program. Starting a mentorship program isn’t a small feat, but we outline the steps, so it’s clear in our guide on starting a mentoring program

When creating a mentorship program tailored for employees from diverse backgrounds, you can run it a few different ways:

  • Reverse mentoring. In this scenario, the traditional 1-on-1 mentorship is flipped. That is, the more senior employee is the mentee, learning from the more junior employee. This style is best, giving those already in leadership positions a new perspective.
  • Sponsorship. When a mentee wants to further their career, sponsorship may be the best fit. In this relationship, a mentor can use their authority or influence to advance the career of the mentee. For example, recommend the mentee for a promotion or facilitate a career move through their connections and seniority in the company. 
  • Employee resource groups. ERGs are a safe places where minority or diverse employees can build community with others like them. These are spaces where they can voice concerns. It is also an excellent resource for building connection and solidarity.

Include room for optional anonymous feedback at the end of your questionnaire. At early stages, this could be anything from pointing out some missing context in your scenarios, adding nuance to one issue that was discussed, or little technical hitches in your scenarios like being unable to facilitate an employee to join a virtual meeting. 

Strengthen diversity in your workplace today

The best way to help your employees grow is by giving them the opportunity to learn from their teammates. After all, we learn best from observing others. So, create intentional spaces for your employees to dive into problems, bounce off ideas, brainstorm solutions, and more.

Diversity-focused mentorship is one such safe space. Pair employees with mentors and create a path from growth and learning. For diversity training, in particular, a mentoring program allows individuals to work closely with each other to understand issues, come up with solutions, and expand perspectives.

Consider starting a mentorship program to work alongside your diversity and inclusion plans. Together can help you build such a program and tweak it to meet your needs. Want to learn more? Book a demo!

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