Diversity Training

Organizations implement diversity training as a part of their overall diversity initiative to enhance their employees’ understanding and sensitivity to cultural and other differences. 

Diversity training builds awareness and understanding and provides a foundation for behavior change in individuals and the organization on whole. Diversity training should focus on building skills with specific behavioral tools to improve employees’ interactions with people who are different from them. 

Simply providing diversity training will not remove organizational barriers such as recruiting and retention. However, it will help develop an educated workforce that has a good foundation for further diversity initiatives. 

Most workforces are comprised of employees with different cultural backgrounds. Diversity training is used to improve the performance of these groups. Research shows heterogeneous groups have increased innovation when their diversity is properly managed. 

Issues to Evaluate When Considering Training

First, conduct a needs assessment to identify the specific issues your organization is trying to address.   Have there been any diversity issues or complaints that need to be addressed, or is this a proactive training.

Once you determine what will be included in the training, you will need to decide on the best delivery method. It might be more beneficial to provide training in small groups of employees to allow for more discussion and collaboration. If this is the first-time diversity training has been provided, you may want to provide a high-level introduction to the topic before diving deeper.  This could be provided in large group training or even through web-based training employees can take on their own.

You will need to decide if attendance at the diversity training be voluntary or mandatory. If your organization makes diversity training mandatory, you are sending the message that you are serious about your commitment to the diversity efforts within your organization. However, some employee may resent the training if it’s mandatory, especially if they believe they don’t need it. If attendance is voluntary, it will be hard to make sure the employees who would benefit the most form the training will attend.

Repetition of the same diversity message in various forms will be the most effective.  Incorporating diversity training in to new employee and new manager training will start the message, and by providing frequent opportunities for training, the message will be reinforced.

Before implementing training for employees of an organization, a separate training should be provided to the senior leadership team, managers, and supervisors of the organization.  One other consideration will be the mix of employees in the training sessions.

Two Reasons to do Diversity Training

One reason organizations provide diversity training is to prevent lawsuits. While this is certainly a good reason, a company should do what it needs to protect itself, this shouldn’t be the only reason.  The other reason is to create an inclusive environment where each employee is valued and respected for their individual contribution to the organization.  An environment where each employee can fully contribute their talents to the organization without being held back is the ultimate goal. 

Why Diversity Training May Not Work

There is a viewpoint that feel diversity training does the opposite of what it set out to do and it actually promotes prejudices. Some diversity training provides an overview of what people could and couldn’t say, which quickly becomes water cooler talk and the butt of jokes.   It can also give employees a false sense of confidence since the training can’t cover every possible scenario.

When the training discusses categorization and divides people in to categories as a way to illustrate the idea of diversity, it again has the opposite effect as it is intended. Categories are simplifying the human beings and actually can be dehumanizing. Diversity training should focus on individuals and people, not categories.

One study concluded that when diversity training was mandatory or was provided as a way to protect the organization from a lawsuit, the training had a negative effect on diversity.

The Solution

There isn’t just one solution to this problem of effective diversity training, there are many.  Train employees to see people as people without categorizing them. Stop training employees to be more accepting of diversity. They need to understand to embrace people’s differences and how to work with a diverse set of individuals.

Diversity training should give employees the tools to have difficult conversations with others. Provide them the tools to manage a variety of employee with diverse backgrounds and skillset.  Managers need to learn how to develop the skills of their employees by embracing their differences and what they bring to the workplace. 

  • Train employees to not think of someone by their category (a white woman, a black man, a lesbian, or an Indian).
  • Help employees understand it’s also not beneficial to see someone as just like themselves either. 
  • We need to move past the similarity and diversity to understanding the individual for who they are.
  • By labeling people, it only reinforces stereotypes.

Research has shown teaching communication skills to employees did much more than fulfill the need to provide diversity training to prevent a lawsuit. It gave employees the tools they need to listen and speak with each other.  With the right tools, they were able to move past their differences thus creating an inclusive environment.

To Improve Diversity, Don’t Make People Go To Diversity Training

In an effort to increase the number of minorities and women in certain industries, such as technology or engineering, some companies have made diversity training mandatory. Some studies have shown that requiring diversity training can actually have the opposite effect on improving the number of women and minorities in managerial positions.

Organizations should focus on engaging their employees in diversity, rather than forcing diversity initiatives on them. An organization’s support for diversity needs to come from the top with the leadership of the organization. If leadership doesn’t support diversity training and openly complain when training is scheduled, their employees will follow their example and not respect the training.  Focus on engaging your leaders in diversity training, and they will help facilitate the message and support. 

Consider implementing a diversity task force comprised of employees from various departments of your organization.  If you have a large enough company, you could have a diversity task force for managers and a separate task force for employees.  Allow this group to lead the diversity charge and suggest the best types of diversity training to offer, how often to provide training, and when to hold the training.  They will be the diversity champions of your organization.

A diversity task force isn’t something you can buy from a consulting firm.  It’s an initiative cultivated within your organization and the direction of the task force completely relies on the task force itself.  An organization that allows employees to take time away from their core duties to focus on diversity initiatives, speaks volumes about their investment in their employees and creating an inclusive work environment.

Is Your Company’s Diversity Training Making You More Biased?

Diversity training that is provided by an organization because it’s the right thing to do – not just because they feel they have to – is much more valued and leads to higher level of performance.

Organizations that are inclusive have demonstrated financial and innovative advantages over organizations who don’t value diversity.  When employees are around others from diverse backgrounds, it tends to make them more hardworking and creative.

When corporation first began offering inclusion and diversity training 40 to 50 years ago, it became clear that a biased atmosphere existed, where people felt unwelcome because of differences in their gender, age, ethnicity, national origin, education, sexual orientation, or religion.  These biases often held companies back from their full potential. 

Inclusion training was created to focus on creating an unbiased culture in organizations – a culture that would attract and retain a diverse employee base. This training, although well meaning, didn’t always address the problems of bias because you can’t eliminate bias by telling people not to do it.

Most employees don’t like their employer telling them what to believe in, and this held true with being told to not be bias against others that are different from them.  This type of pressure made employees want to do the opposite of what was being asked of them because the concepts weren’t properly introduced. 

This backlash from the diversity training had to do with the deeply rooted patterns of thinking and attitudes regarding the nature of autonomy and making their own choices, and really had little to do with their attitudes about race or gender. 

People naturally categorize things in their worlds as us versus them.  When you meet someone new, it’s natural to automatically categorizes them as like you (one of your own) or an outsider. 

It’s natural for people to divide the world into categories, and when you meet someone new, your brain immediately categorizes them, whether it’s as an outsider or someone like yourself. The tendency to categorize individuals in to groups is ingrained in our minds.  In an example where people were divided into groups based on a coin toss, they naturally began to discriminate against the opposing group. 

The tendency to categorize people as members of an outsider group based on their race, gender, or ethnicity is ingrained in us, as well.  Research shows that when individuals see facial images of people from a different ethnic background than their own, the part of their brain that is associated with strong emotions like happiness, anxiety, fear, and sadness is activated more than when they see images of people from the same ethnicity.

The brain activity correlates with measure of racial bias. When discussing ethnic diversity, these same brain activities are recorded. So, one could argue that when organizations implement diversity training, some people can actually become more racist against those not like them.

  • Diversity training should emphasis on quality over quantity.
  • Don’t provide training just to provide it. 
  • If you’re going to invest the time in providing diversity training, do it right and make it meaningful. 
  • Authenticity in the training is a necessity.

An organization has to truly believe diversity is a vital initiative to their success. If employees feel their management is just checking a diversity box, employees will go through the motions as if they too are just checking a box. If employees feel management has taken the time to invest in the right kind of diversity training, the organization has a much better chance of breaking down the diversity walls.

If you need additional information on diversity training, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel’s marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of Google, Strip, and Airbnb.