Diversity training in the workplace is any program that’s designed to encourage and accelerate the cultural awareness of employees and facilitate positive, inclusive interaction and communication between individuals of different backgrounds.
It addresses all of the ways employees might be unique to each other, including their culture, race, age, religion, gender expression, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or mental or physical disability, in order to facilitate an inclusive, safe and welcoming work environment that recognizes and celebrates every team member.
But it’s not only about appearing politically correct. “Companies with above-average total diversity… had both 19% points higher innovation revenues and 9% points higher earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT),” according to a study by the Harvard Business Review.
Diversity is a major benefit to companies everywhere, but where do you begin, and how can you ensure your training is effective and lasting?
Find out as we break down the essential elements of diversity training, its benefits, and how HR professionals can successfully facilitate diversity training in the workplace.
The essential elements of diversity training
Diversity training can include several different initiatives, training sessions and processes, all designed to build a more inclusive work environment. What you include in your company’s training will depend on the size of the company, the level of trust your team currently has with one another, and whether you’re experiencing discrimination issues in the workplace.
Diversity training may include but isn’t limited to:
- Team building sessions
- Dedicated in-person diversity training in a classroom
- Gamification (getting employees to play a game together and problem solve either online or in-person)
- Online classes, and
- Ongoing workplace initiatives.
How you go about your diversity training and what your program includes will depend on the size of the team, training budget and current state of your office culture.
Keep in mind that a preventive strategy is always better than a defensive one. Don’t wait until your workplace culture becomes problematic or for diversity issues to arise before investing in training. Once trust is lost, it’s extremely difficult to earn it back.
The benefits of diversity training
Diversity training in the workplace is beneficial to the entire company, from employees to managers to HR professionals to executives to owners.
Diversity training benefits for employees:
- Employees have the opportunity to learn about each other’s beliefs, customs and values.
- Employees earn an increased sense of inclusion and belonging amongst employees from different backgrounds.
- Communication is improved between team members thanks to a better understanding of cultural differences and sensitivities.
- Teams develop more effectively through shared knowledge as well as the prioritization and appreciation of each other’s perspectives.
- Team members have the freedom to innovate and be creative because they feel safe expressing themselves.
- Job satisfaction and morale are increased because employees feel respected and valued for their unique perspectives.
- Communication between employees and across teams is easier because team members have built rapport and trust one another.
- Collaborative projects are looked forward to instead of dreaded because the team can count on one another and make decisions as a team with ease.
- Discrimination in the workplace is reduced thanks to better education, which leads to a more positive, encouraging and welcoming work environment.
As great as the employee benefits are, diversity in a workplace brings plenty of benefits to employers, managers and HR professionals as well. Inclusivity means your workplace has plenty of viewpoints to utilize for innovation, problem solving and effective decision making.
Diversity training benefits for employers, managers and HR professionals:
- Productivity is increased thanks to improved communication and collaboration between team members who come from different backgrounds.
- Customer service is improved through enriched recognition and understanding of the needs of customers from diverse backgrounds.
- Employee engagement is enhanced, which leads to greater loyalty and commitment from team members throughout the organization.
- Innovation is increased thanks to a wider range of ideas and perspectives being given due respect.
- The potential for discrimination lawsuits is reduced because the work environment is much more inclusive; every team member is treated with the same respect, kindness and rights.
- The reputation of the company as a whole is improved amongst customers, partners, suppliers and other stakeholders thanks to increased awareness of diversity issues.
- Employee turnover is reduced because the needs and expectations of different employees are understood and prioritized.
- Talent acquisition is also boosted since an organization can more easily attract diverse candidates by demonstrating a commitment to diversity, inclusivity and empathy.
Does diversity training really work?
Now, as an HR professional, the question on your mind is: Does diversity training really work?
Diversity and diversity training itself isn’t enough. These endeavors must be met with inclusivity in all aspects of the workplace. Inclusivity efforts that go beyond training give employees of all walks of life a voice and sense of belonging.
“Inclusion is the critical differentiator. Organizations today, and certainly tomorrow, will be differentiated by their ability to create, foster and maintain an inclusive culture,” according to Sabinet’s South African-based global human capital magazine, HR Future.
A study by the American Psychological Association on diversity training in the workplace, found the beneficial effects of diversity training were enhanced when the training was complemented by other diversity initiatives that targeted both awareness and skill development. It helped if the training was conducted over a long period of time. Also, the number of women in a training group was associated with better reactions to diversity training.
(For more information on the differences between diversity and inclusion, check out The importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace.)
How to conduct successful and effective diversity training
Diversity training is an essential program for fostering an inclusive and respectful workplace. A successful diversity training program is executed with advance planning, delivery of training, and continued follow-up and maintenance.
Step 1: Planning
- Define your goals and what you hope to accomplish.
- Develop content or choose who to hire externally.
- Allow interested team members to contribute in the planning phase to allow more voices to be heard. This also helps team members feel accountable; it gives them ownership over the training program.
- Tailor the training program to the size of your company and the needs of your team.
- Establish a training timeline.
- Coordinate dates and schedules with all team members. Remember to give plenty of notice so that all team members, or as many as possible, are able to participate.
In the early phases, it can be challenging to get everyone on board, but for diversity training to have a positive impact, all employees, no matter their rank, must participate. This includes new hires, entry-level positions, managers, executives and everyone in between.
Ensuring executive team members and company leaders buy into the program and are enthusiastic about its powerful benefits will help the rest of the team follow suit. Additionally, the more involved team members are during the initial planning phases, the more likely they are to take ownership of the initiative.
Allow team members to get involved, but be sure not to center out individuals directly – especially if they have diverse backgrounds. Centering someone out for their perceived differences can have the opposite effect. Just because someone comes from a different background or has an identity distinct from the rest of the team doesn’t mean it’s their responsibility to educate each team member.
Step 2: Delivery and execution
- Before you begin, ensure the team understands the importance of diversity training and how it will help everyone in the company.
- Facilitate sessions that involve all team members.
- Blend in team-building activities to enhance and build upon your diversity training.
- Acquire feedback from participants to improve your process.
- Measure your progress along the way using clear benchmarks decided upon in the planning phase, such as tangible engagement and team wellness metrics.
It’s very easy to talk about the merits of diversity training, but implementing it can be tough. You must ensure that no one feels they’re being centered out or forced to participate, as this can do more harm than good.
It’s important that you don’t reinforce destructive stereotypes in your effort to get rid of them.
The best diversity training focuses on learning and team building, not judging or calling anyone out. When people are made to feel bad about a mistake or their own ignorance or inexperience, the opposite effect can occur – your team members may double down on their own opinions and biases despite the training.
Work to facilitate team-building efforts centered on trust, understanding each other’s differences, learning together and the value of collaboration.
Step 3: Follow through
- Encourage ongoing dialogue about inclusion and respect in the workplace.
- Establish protocols for ongoing diversity initiatives.
- Evaluate the success of your diversity training program on a consistent basis.
- Ensure everyone knows how and where to provide regular feedback.
- Ensure everyone knows how to confidentially report an issue or concern if one arises.
The challenge of follow-through is allowing your progress to plateau or slowly peter out after the initial implementation of the training. Diversity training isn’t a magic cure-all, and it must be ongoing to be effective.
One class on diversity isn’t going to change hearts and minds overnight. Plus, cultural norms change fast and all the time; what was acceptable behavior even five years ago isn’t necessarily acceptable behavior today.
Diversity training must continue to be prioritized if it’s going to be effective. As an HR professional, it’s vital to keep your finger on the pulse of our ever-changing culture and continue to seek feedback from all employees.
Requires long-term efforts
Diversity is a major asset to any business, but surface-level diversity efforts alone aren’t enough.
When paired with long-term efforts and initiatives to improve inclusivity, diversity in the workplace can improve innovation and creativity, client relationships, decision making, collaboration, employee attraction and retention, and so much more – all of which contribute to your company’s bottom line.
As an HR professional, it’s up to you to prioritize diversity training as well as ongoing inclusivity efforts to ensure every single member of your team feels welcome, safe, valued and able to complete their work to the best of their ability.
Remember, the best strategies are preventive rather than defensive. Don’t wait until issues arise before you take action because it may be too late to regain the trust of your employees, customers and community by the time they do.
For more information, check out Trends in diversity, equity & inclusion for HR.