Even the loudest champions of diversity and inclusion, the keenest allies, and most enthusiastic subject matter experts recognize that no one longs to do the mandatory diversity training. There is probably one person (usually the person who commissioned it) who eagerly logs in with the eager intention of learning about diversity in the workplace.
Training Doesn’t Work!
Donald Trump banned federal workers from doing anti-racism training while president, and in a similar move, the British government announced that it would phase out unconscious bias training in 2020. Despite the political ideology behind each of these moves, it is unsurprising that in both cases, the decisions were supported by evidence that the training is usually ineffective in tackling inequality or reducing discrimination.
There are two explanations as to why diversity training has such a poor reputation.
Firstly, training is often seen as a miracle cure-all. If you put your staff through a standard training course, miraculously you will have a diverse, empathetic, equitable workplace – or at least evidence enough to keep your customers, clients, and shareholders happy.
Secondly, it ignores andragogy – the science of adult learning psychology. Adults learn when it is clear what the benefit to them is when they have a clear problem in front of them and they can learn a solution. They need to be motivated to learn.
A Hard Sell
Diversity training rarely ‘sells’ itself to the learner. The point is that you are doing something wrong, so we are going to lecture you with lots of examples of how you do things wrong, and then give you some very vague, ambiguous advice as to how to do better.
In an ideal world, altruistic motivation should be enough – but our world is far from ideal.
When your HR director comes to you and asks you to implement diversity training in your organization, what should you do? Let’s assume that they are genuinely interested in addressing the issue, rather than just checking a box. If they want to check a box, there are plenty of off-the-shelf courses that are cheap and easy to implement – the best advice is to choose something short, so you can score high on completion rates. The second step would be to start looking for a job in an organization that does take diversity seriously.
What’s The Problem You Want To Solve?
Firstly, you should probably push back and point out that addressing diversity is a challenge that can be solved by training. Training may be an element, but real change can only come about through culture change. As in any training, you need to identify the problem that needs solving and work back from that.
Imagery and values, recruitment, flexible working policies, performance management are all areas that impact how inclusive your workplace is. Is psychological safety a key priority? Are people comfortable challenging unfair practices? How are grievances dealt with? You can have the best training that it is possible to design, but it will fail if you don’t have the infrastructure in place to model equitable behaviors and processes.
Again, let’s assume that there is buy-in from the C-suite to bring about genuine cultural change. How can training support that culture embeds itself in the behaviors, attitudes, and values of the workforce?
Let’s have a look at some key areas.
Be honest about the mistakes your organization has been. A senior leader, trusted by the workforce must be seen to admit to the inequity of the structures in the past and commit publicly to doing better. If leadership maintains a façade of this being something that doesn’t affect them, then the workforce will follow their example and distance themselves from any need to take the learning to heart – except that the people who have been impacted by inequity, discrimination, and micro-aggressions will at least know that they will never be treated equally. This must be a top-down approach.
Using real stories from your business can be a very powerful way to show that this impacts real people – people that your employees can relate to. Ask customers and suppliers to tell their stories as well.
And if you’re getting nervous that this is creating vulnerability – remember, that no one promised that implementing effective diversity training would be easy!
When I take time out of my busy calendar to do training, I want to come away feeling positive and uplifted. As well as highlighting the issues, use stories, anecdotes, and examples of positive, feel-good stories. Show how diversity is a good thing and can add interest and color to the workplace – and then sell the benefits of different perspectives in problem-solving, creativity, and team performance. If you’re a salesperson, you want to achieve your target: so, show the sales team that understanding the cultural values of their customers gives them a competitive edge.
Business is based on communication and relationships, so building training that highlights how to communicate effectively and build better relationships reframes diversity as a business problem with a practical solution.
Too much diversity training is abstract and has little practical application. If, before you implement the training, you make sure you have concrete, practical things that people can do immediately, you will see a much greater impact. What the skills, values, and behaviors are will very much depend on your organizational context, but they should be linked to the skills, values, and behaviors that the organization rewards and recognizes. Tie the training to your desired competencies or leadership behaviors.
You Get What You Pay For
‘If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys’ – quality learning outcomes are not cheap – either financially or in terms of effort and time. To effect real change and build genuine, effective inclusivity and equity needs an investment from leadership, from L&D, from all employees. It is not a one-off event, but a continual, multi-channel process that permeates the entire work culture.
If you save pennies on your diversity implementation, either you don’t have a problem (NB – you do!) or you are not taking it seriously. And that will be obvious not only to the under-represented groups who are overlooked for promotion and bonuses or who put up with microaggressions, or who just don’t get access to the same level of respect and value, but it’s also obvious to those who have the privilege. They will quickly recognize that they aren’t really expected to do anything differently – after all, when you open a new office, you spend a lot of money on the launch party – because it’s important.
We all know that diversity and inclusion training is not on your list of fun work activities, but it can be rewarding, useful, and have a significant positive impact if you do it right. It’s a matter of priorities and discerning investment. Time and again, research has shown that organizations who invest in their employees reap the benefits in the bottom line – and what is more fundamental than in investing in the equity and fairness that every single one of your employees experiences daily.
This post was written by Chris Crosby, CEO, and co-founder of Country Navigator. Country Navigator is a provider of cultural diversity and inclusion training in the workplace, creating unique and tailor-made solutions for businesses through inclusion, innovation, and collaboration. From cultural influences to unconscious bias, Country Navigator’s cultural diversity and inclusion training give detailed and highly accurate analysis across parameters including explicit and implicit communication and individual and group identity. Chris has over 30 years of experience in helping leaders, teams, and organizations to work better across cultures.
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