RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – The stakes are high for organizations when they integrate diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training programs: An uninformed approach or misguided tactics can stall or undermine their efforts. One way to increase the chances of having a successful long-term DEI strategy and achieving organizational goals is to choose the right education vendor and curriculum.
Companies have struggled to find effective diversity training programs for a long time. In 2016, the Harvard Business Review revealed that in a “command and control” managerial environment, mandatory diversity training actually made companies less diverse by activating bias or triggering backlash. According to the study, these initiatives led to a decrease in Black women, Asian women, and Asian men at the managerial level.
Not only do high-quality vendors prevent negative outcomes, but they stand to benefit an organization’s DEI strategy in significant ways. First and foremost, good diversity training in the workplace ensures that all stakeholders are on the same page regarding DEI basics (i.e. definitions, theories, statistics). Organizations can’t make progress if employees are misaligned on foundational terms and concepts.
Since, diversity training is typically the first step a company will take, it’s essential that it be beneficial. If employees participate in an engaging, well-structured training, then they are more likely to participate in future efforts than if the training were a bust. At the leadership level, training should include actionable, job-specific advice they can use to immediately improve their performance and that of their team. When results-oriented leaders see the outcomes of effective diversity training, they are more likely to support subsequent DEI programs.
FIVE ATTRIBUTES OF TOP DEI TRAINING PARTNERS
What is the best way to select a DEI education partner given all the options? Below are five attributes to look for.
- Curriculum goes beyond compliance – While abiding by local employment laws is a critical foundation of any DEI program, fostering true inclusion and equity requires much more and has far greater benefits. In other words, compliance is important, but it’s not the sole criteria. For example, The Diversity Movement’s “Diversity: Beyond the Checkbox-Foundations” course touches on Equal Employment Opportunity and Affirmative Action, but also provides extensive information on personal bias and how DEI can be integrated holistically across the organization.
- Courses are developed and instructed by a diverse group of subject matter experts – Having an instructor with DEI experience is critical, but finding a course or training developed by multiple subject matter experts with diverse backgrounds and experiences is even better. This ensures that the curriculum has been verified through a number of different perspectives, leading to more comprehensive and thoughtful content. The Diversity Leader’s Intensive was developed and is taught by eight DEI experts with backgrounds in consulting, marketing, writing, education, and more. This team approach enables each person to contribute their own unique knowledge and viewpoint to the curriculum.
- Content and instructors are adaptable – Companies should be wary of vendors who take a one-size-fits-all approach. Every organization has unique strengths, challenges, historical context, and company culture. Therefore, it’s important to engage a vendor that can tailor its training to each client. For instance, The Diversity Movement has several educational options that require different levels of time commitment and prior knowledge. Its online DEI training programs range from 2-4 minute MicroVideos on individual topics to 4-day certification courses. This breadth of options enables clients to have a customized educational package, depending on the current stage of their DEI journey.
- Content is presented in an engaging manner – Many DEI training programs consist of a single lecturer in the front of a conference room or a recorded PowerPoint presentation. These methods are almost guaranteed to cause learners to zone out or speed through the material with little to no absorption of the material. The best training is innovative and inspiring, ideally presented in a multimedia format. This ensures that each lesson and each concept is taught in the best manner possible.
For example, within the ABCs of LGBTQ+ eLearning course, a module titled “How Does Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Inclusion Benefit Organizations?” is presented via slideshow to demonstrate data points. In contrast, “The History of LGBTQ+ Rights in the United States” is presented via video to show images of people and events across history. Another benefit of choosing multimedia training is that it caters to multiple types of learners.
- Vendor has a proven track record – Organizations should read reviews from past learners to gauge the quality of the content and instruction. Do they have reviews from companies in the same industry and of similar size? Has the program been peer-reviewed by other DEI practitioners?
RISKS IN PICKING THE WRONG DEI TRAINING PARTNER
Companies that don’t thoroughly inspect a vendor risk undermining DEI efforts. Although training and education are merely components of the full DEI strategy within an organization, they have a large impact on the success of a program. Here’s why:
First, mandatory training increases pushback and backlash – People often go into training programs with resistance, or even upset or stressed that they’ve been given added workload. Although mandatory training may seem like the only way to get folks to attend, it actually makes reluctant folks more entrenched. These negative feelings about the training can turn into negative feelings toward certain demographic groups.
Second, most DEI training is focused on changing attitudes rather than actions – Deep-seated beliefs are harder to change than behaviors. The goal of DEI training isn’t necessarily to change minds about one topic or another, but rather to encourage an environment where all people are respected and included. And even if someone changes their mind, that won’t necessarily be reflected in their behavior.
For instance, unconscious bias training is a common first step in DEI education. Someone might discover they have a bias for men that they were previously unaware of, or a bias against older colleagues. However, unless people are taught what to do with this information, little will change. Rather than just uncovering people’s biases, good training programs will teach people how to mitigate their own biases and speak up when they observe someone else’s. There must be a focus on action.
Finally, a lot of DEI training is negative, focusing on the risks of not investing in DEI or the inequities that persist within corporate America and society at large – While this is vital information, it must be balanced with positive information: the benefits of an inclusive workplace, organizations that have experienced positive outcomes through their DEI efforts, the business benefits the company expects to realize and progress that’s already been observed. Only focusing on the negative can be discouraging, so any DEI training should emphasize the positive outcomes as well.
About the Author
Kaela Sosa is co-founder and Manager, Curriculum and Programming at The Diversity Movement. Her expertise includes psychology, gender identity and sexual orientation and racial identities. Kaela has written and spoken about a range of topics: active allyship, the inclusive talent lifecycle, disability etiquette, LGBTQ+ inclusion and inclusive language. At The Diversity Movement, she leads the development and execution of learning programs, including digital learning, online courses, certificate programs and certification opportunities. Connect with or follow Kaela on Linkedin to learn more.