Tips to create effective diversity training in the workplace

April 28, 2021
Kaisa Savola
CEO and Founder

With all the benefits that diversity training can bring to your organization, it is clear that a program is worth the investment. Here are some top tips on how to build an effective diversity training program at your workplace.

1. Be realistic about what training can change, and what it cannot

Organizations often roll out diversity training with aims like “Improve our culture and our company” or “Shift our culture”. Truly changing an organization’s culture to make it more diverse takes years, not hours, and it requires tools beyond training sessions. In other words, it is important to understand that these big goals cannot possibly be addressed through training alone.

2. Be clear about training goals

Training materials in many diversity training programs are often selected without keeping in mind the goals they are meant to promote. Therefore, in your diversity training, you should aim to make your goals as clear as possible to employees. Think critically about what you want the audience to take away from training, and if possible, choose materials that have a pre-and post-test in order to measure progress and success. 

A diversity training program goal example could be to provide concrete ways to engage in respectful and positive interactions in the workplace while reducing discrimination and prejudice based on factors such as gender, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, age, religion, physical and mental ability, and socioeconomic status. The training programs will target all employees and address a range of issues, including unconscious bias, and cross-cultural communications.

tips to create effective diversity training in the workplace

3. Get support from all levels

Get top management support before you begin any serious diversity training effort.  You’ll need buy-in from above to get the support and resources you need. You’ll also need to promote diversity training to your constituents. and convince people that diversity training is in their best interest.

4. Extend and maintain diversity training over time

Doing diversity training for a couple of hours, once or twice a year, will not boost awareness and inclusion. For training to be effective, the message must be reinforced regularly, and managers must coach their employees when they see behaviors and attitudes that contradict an inclusive environment.

Instead of planning an annual day of training or a one-time workshop, the organization should roll out a series of programs, events, celebrations, mentoring opportunities, and other experiences for continual learning. This way, diversity is ingrained into the fabric of your business, so it becomes the norm. As a result, diversity training becomes more about reinforcement of positive behavior than an annual lecture on all of the prohibitive rules.

5. Make diversity training become a part of other initiatives

Rather than making employees explicitly take a diversity training course, you could work elements of diversity training into other training programs and initiatives in your organization. One example can be when the company launches a special mentorship program for their female employees by partnering them with senior employees two levels above them in the organization. This activity has exposed both the company’s up-and-coming female leaders and their mentors to new points of view and perspectives, helping to bolster diversity and inclusion among both groups while simultaneously working to increase gender diversity in the company’s leadership roles.

By structuring their mentoring program with diversity training goals in mind, the organization can meet some diversity goals, even though the mentoring program was not explicitly about diversity and inclusion. In addition to mentorship programs, you can embed diversity training to affinity groups, talent development plans, and recruitment and retention processes.

tips to create effective diversity training in the workplace

6. Use diversity training activities in team meetings

Having some of these activities as a part of team-building meetings can help employees embrace diversity training as a regular part of their professional work and personal development. There are 2 common diversity training activities that organizations can use to get across the vital lessons of diversity to the employees during meetings, including:

Perspective-taking activities

These activities aim to make participants see things from the perspective of someone from a different group of people (Harvard Business Review). While the Harvard example asked people to write a few sentences imagining the distinct challenges a minority might face, this kind of activity could also be done through role-playing. By making employees walk a mile in someone else’s proverbial shoes, employers can increase the employee’s awareness and sensitivity to the issues faced by others.

“Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.”

Addressing Stereotypes activities

One example of this is the “I am ___, but I am not___” activity. An example given in the MIT paper was:

“I am Asian, but I am not good at math.”

The goal of this activity is to let participants “claim some of their own identities and dispel stereotypes other people may believe exist about the group.” In other words, this activity lets employees assert specific aspects of their identities to others while confronting stereotypes so everyone involved can get to know one another. One side benefit of this activity is that it can tell team leaders a lot about how employees think others perceive them—which can be an invaluable insight for making those employees feel more welcome in the larger group.

tips to create effective diversity training in the workplace

7. Make diversity training a part of your company’s onboarding process and mission statement 

Part of the reason Google is so successful at attracting and hiring a diverse pool of candidates is that they focus strongly on creating diversity-focused hiring paths for new applicants. By making diversity and inclusion a part of the company culture from day one of every employee’s time with the company, Google helps to ensure that every employee is on the same page when it comes to the importance of diversity to the company. This indeed makes it easier to introduce diversity training programs and have them be seen as an ordinary part of the company’s day-to-day activities. 

8. Measure training efficacy 

“All too often, training is conducted but not evaluated.”

Failure to measure can doom well-intentioned efforts. Without evidence for the value of training, leaders may not be persuaded to continue paying for it. Besides, an evaluation taking place after the training can ensure continuous training improvement by adapting to the results from these assessments and curating the ongoing training experience to your audience’s success. 

In conclusion, introducing a diversity training program to your employees can be an enormous challenge, but it is well worth the effort to create a welcoming environment that encourages everyone to participate.

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