Creating and ensuring an equitable and inclusive workplace is not only the moral thing to do, but it also leads to better business outcomes. According to McKinsey & Company’s Global Parity Alliance: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Lighthouses 2023 report, more ethnically and gender diverse companies were 36% and 25% respectively more likely to financially outperform their peers. In PwC’s Global Diversity & Inclusion Survey, 75% of respondents said that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs were a priority for them, but only 4% said their employers were succeeding in their DEI initiatives.
There is a clear distinction between diversity for the sake of it and genuine inclusion. A Deloitte report noted that even though they are often used interchangeably, diversity is like being invited to the party while inclusion is more like being asked to dance. It’s not enough for organizations to have a diverse workforce. They need to make employees feel a sense of belongingness in the organization, that their say matters, and that they have access to opportunities.
Many organizations have implemented formal DEI programs to foster inclusive workplaces. But perhaps they don't know where to go from there. Yet, these programs have not been as effective as they may have hoped. DEI programs have not changed the dynamic or the metrics as much as they would have hoped.
What is diversity training?
Diversity, equity, and inclusion training (also called diversity training) is training that increases cultural awareness, knowledge, and communication. Diversity training can take different forms in every organization, but it usually covers the following topics:
- Awareness around workplace diversity issues such as gender gaps and microaggressions
- Unconscious bias and discrimination
- Communication and collaboration skills to foster better-working relationships among diverse colleagues
- How to react and stand up to discrimination or bias, conscious or unconscious
A good training program includes peer discussion and support rather than a one-way push of information.
How can you create effective DEI training?
Even though companies are investing more in DEI, some still struggle to implement programs that meaningfully improve individual employees’ sense of belonging and inclusion in their day-to-day interactions. It is not enough to simply provide DEI training and expect your workplace to become more inclusive.
You need to find the right kind of training for your employees, ensure it is implemented effectively, and also that your efforts to provide diversity training are seen as authentic. Here are some tips to make diversity training effective for your organization:
- Involve senior executives
Senior executives seen to be championing DEI initiatives signals your organization’s commitment to creating an inclusive workplace and encourage employees to participate.
- Don’t make it mandatory
Making diversity training mandatory, especially if it focuses on racial or gender bias, can make employees feel like they’re being accused of such behavior and make them feel defensive. You can achieve better results by making the training elective. Although this may seem counterintuitive, the training will be more effective for employees who want to be involved.
- Set realistic goals
Don’t expect to create an inclusive workplace solely on the basis of DEI training. That takes more than just training, but a structural and cultural change. The purpose of training is not to affect a change in your organization’s culture, but to increase awareness of issues faced by minority or disadvantaged groups. Work is a large part of our lives, and most people tend to meet people from other backgrounds mostly at their workplace. Therefore, you should not assume that they are aware of differing perspectives or of the problems faced by their colleagues. Try to communicate the benefits of DEI training to employees and increase their voluntary participation.
- Follow up regularly
One of the main reasons why diversity training fails is that it is perceived to be a performative and isolated measure with no or inadequate follow-ups to track how your employees think of DEI issues over time. Make sure to follow up regularly (at least once a quarter) with employees about learnings in the training modules and about their day-to-day experience in the workplace since the training. This will reinforce the training over time, ensuring that it isn’t forgotten, and also help you evaluate its effectiveness.
Build genuine belongingness with a sustained, comprehensive approach
Diversity training alone, at least in the traditional sense of a couple of hours of classroom or virtual learning, cannot change the culture of any organization. Companies today are expected to go beyond performative measures and genuinely build a culture of belongingness. Employees can tell if you are serious about creating an inclusive workplace. You should adopt a sustained effort to provide training, but don’t just stop there.
The key to creating a sense of belongingness is to focus on commonalities and collectivism. Provide specific leadership training and coaching for managers to be good people managers working with diverse teams and diverse companies, employee engagement programs and initiatives like employee volunteering to help underserved populations, or doing something related to your corporate mission. All of these things should be part of your overall DEI efforts.