Many Companies Get Diversity Training Wrong. Here's How to Get it Right.

For the past 50 years, diversity trainings have taken on various forms with one unanimous result. They haven't worked in the way that we expected.

Many companies get diversity training wrong. Here's how to get it right.

Tasha on diversity training


 If there’s one thing you remember after reading this blog, remember this: change is a process, not an event.

This phrase captures the inherent problems with current diversity and inclusion trainings. In reviewing the Great Place to Work list for 50 Best Workplaces for Diversity in 2016, it’s easy to spot some of the best ingredients for an effective diversity and inclusion training program. And the connecting thread is that the best workplaces for diversity see diversity and inclusion goals as a continuous effort, not a pop-up event. So what else do you need to remember to be a workplace that does diversity and inclusion training activities right?

It all starts with leadership. C-Suite executives must consider how they set the tone about diversity and inclusion activities, and not just in reaction to damning PR events in their company or industry. An open letter from top leadership regarding commitments to diversity goals makes a training program more widely accepted and will engender more trust when it’s not the first note about diversity following a discrimination lawsuit. A middle manager should lead by example by not only allowing their direct reports to participate in cultural awareness events, but by joining their employees, creating a staff dialogue to reflect on the event leader’s intentions, and considering how to assist in the development of future events.

Diversity is good for business. Diversity training in the workplace is often treated like a compliance problem when, in fact, it should be viewed as a business solution. Studies continue to affirm the business need for diversity in the workplace. A 2015 McKinsey Report showed that ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform the national industry median, and gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to have better financial returns. A diverse workforce leads to an inclusive culture. And an inclusive culture celebrates new ways of thinking, of connecting with a broader customer base.

Inclusion works when it’s integrated. Don’t make diversity and inclusion training a standalone program. Integrate concepts of unconscious bias and cultural awareness into hiring training for managers and development training for senior leadership. Talk about diversity and inclusion when discussing issues around clear and effective communication. When all members of an organization understand that diversity and inclusion weaves into all aspects of the workplace, it becomes less of an afterthought (or event) and more of a continuous exercise (or process) for individual and collective growth.

Amber on diversity training


Have you ever attended a diversity training in the workplace and left more scarred than before you entered the room?  If you’re like me, you applaud the efforts to engage employees on these diversity and inclusion topics, but wish the attempt had been better executed in a thoughtful, genuine, and curious manner.  I won’t spend too much time discussing the reasons why diversity programs are having the adverse effect, but rather I’ll share with you two tips for how we can get it right, right now.

  1.  Define Leadership Intent.  Senior leaders are responsible for establishing a culture of inclusion at the top of the organization.  This commitment to the organizational health drives and equips employees to better understand, respect, and support the people they work with and the customers they serve.  With clarity, there is power.  Leaders must define with utmost conviction what diversity and inclusion means to their organization, and how they will embody these values.  Leaders who are successful in establishing healthy environments know that the trick is to empower their employees to empower themselves.  This Harvard Business Review article provides great tips that demonstrate how leaders can create an environment built around empowerment.
  2. Create the Momentum.  Too often disingenuous attempts are made to simply ‘check the box’ on activities of diversity and inclusion.  I’ve learned from my experience over the years facilitating diversity and inclusion trainings that the work cannot be accomplished in just one engagement.  Keep the momentum of the conversation - the energy - alive and  flowing; whether that’s daily, weekly, or monthly space carved out for genuine curiousity.  People often feel uncomfortable talking about being different and why that matters, and the only way to get comfortable is to step outside our comfort zone.  The single biggest problem in communication on diversity and inclusion is the illusion that it is taking place.

Our years of exposure to well-intentioned, poorly executed and the ‘check the box’ mentality on diversity trainings are what drive DICE to breathe life into these conversations and provide a better experience.  We will heal scars - we promise.

Michaela on diversity training


As a trainer specializing in diversity and inclusion, I was shocked to learn that when looking at the past 50 years of training it appeared as if diversity training didn’t work. In taking a closer look, and pulling from personal experiences sitting in diversity trainings, it became increasingly clear why. Here are three reasons that diversity training hasn’t worked and why a small pivot in how we train on diversity can make a huge impact.

1) Conventional diversity training focuses on definitions and consequences. While recognizing and understanding diversity lingo is beneficial, it does little to encourage a change in behavior. Also, by focusing on consequences, trainers have made “diversity” an enemy.

2) The word “diversity” oftentimes elicits defensiveness or agitation among participants. With sensitive topics like race, religion, and even politics, people walk on eggshells or disengage. Trainings must include an increased focus on emotional intelligence, open-mindedness, and respect over consensus to produce highly-interactive trainings that expand engagement.

3) Biases, stereotypical thinking, and microaggressions are hard to combat. These inequitable mindsets have been ingrained over years of programming, so a day of training isn’t enough to produce the desired results. Empowering employees with diversity and inclusion awareness and a platform to speak up and initiate beneficial changes makes a greater impact.

As you can see, most diversity training activities - with the traditional focus on definitions and consequences - are doomed to be ineffective. An effective training should include a focus on inclusion. Put a group of people - any group, really - into a room and you will have diversity. To successfully improve workplace culture where all types of people are attracted into the organization and retained for a fulfilling career, organizations must train employees to embrace the diversity, while actively practicing inclusion. This focus on inclusion is what sets DICE apart.

Organizations that incorporate inclusion into their diversity trainings see the immediate impact of breaking barriers and building bridges between employees. By developing key qualities such as open-mindedness and vulnerability, DICE trainings cultivate internal discovery sessions that lead to increased buy-in, camaraderie, and collaboration.

It has taken 50 years to determine why diversity trainings weren't giving us the results we needed, but we don't need another 50 to get it right.

It will take committed leaders, a dedicated program, and a focus on inclusion to create workplaces where every single person is empowered to be themselves and give their best effort. The best time to work towards an inclusive culture was years ago, but the next best time - is now.

What will you do today to guide your organization's culture in a more inclusive direction?