The United States is one of the most diverse countries in the world, with a population that speaks over 350 languages, comes from dozens of other countries, and encompasses many cultures. With so many people from different cultures working together in remote and hybrid roles, every employee needs to understand and respect a wide variety of cultures in the workplace.
In a multicultural workplace, you need to set expectations and boundaries about behaviors and language. Cultural diversity training can help you educate your employees about the appropriate (and inappropriate) ways to interact with people from different cultures.
Cultural diversity training is crucial in developing and maintaining an inclusive workplace that promotes perspectives and voices from all over the world. When you have an inclusive workplace, you can improve employee relations, attract higher-quality candidates, and prevent conflicts that stem from cultural differences.
Successful cultural diversity training can reduce miscommunications in the workplace by teaching your employees the appropriate ways to communicate with each other. With a program that teaches sensitivity and respect for cultural differences, you can train your employees to collaborate with anyone from any culture.
You’ll also lessen the number of conflicts among employees. Companies that have diverse workforces but don't train their employees in cultural sensitivity tend to have more harassment and discrimination issues. Pollack, a workplace conflict management consulting firm, says cultural diversity training reduces these types of problems. Cultural diversity training lets you proactively identify situations that may result in conflict, like language barriers or different working styles. Your cultural diversity trainings should address these situations with ways to prevent conflict and miscommunication that arise because of cultural differences.
Training should also include information about language that’s not appropriate. Let your employees know how important it is to respect others by considering their word choice and the phrases they use. They should avoid language that may be offensive to some cultures, even if it’s not offensive to their own.
For instance, if you have a group of employees from Nigeria or India, hold cultural sensitivity trainings for your employees that focus on those cultures. Give specific examples of what is not tolerated, and explain why. Add context to language and behaviors, so other employees can develop a better understanding. One Harvard Business Review article suggests bringing Interactive Theater to cultural diversity training to show employees how to be more culturally sensitive rather than simply telling them.
Related: How to Make Sure Your Cross-Cultural Training Isn't Shooting You in the Foot
Companies that have diverse workforces but don't train their employees in cultural sensitivity tend to have more harassment and discrimination issues.
Cultural diversity training shows employees that people from all cultures—including theirs—are accepted, welcomed, and included in your organization. The training contributes to employee satisfaction and, thus, more productive employees. “When people are allowed to bring their emotional truth to work, that is when innovation, creativity, engagement, and culture thrive in the organization,” said Susan David, Harvard Medical School psychologist and author, in an interview with Slack. It’s tough to live your truth if you feel like you have to hide part of your identity at work.
When your employees feel free to be who they are and feel a sense of belonging, they’re more productive. One study even found that in a more diverse and inclusive environment, individual effort improves by 12%, and team collaboration improves by about 50%.
A good way to discern how satisfied your employees are, especially as it relates to your cultural diversity training, is to survey them. You can’t simply assume how effective a program is; you need to ask the people who participate in the trainings—your employees. When you send out your survey, ask specific questions about the cultural diversity training program to determine how effective they perceive it to be.
The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) has a survey template you can use as a starting point. You can customize your survey with questions specific to cultural sensitivity. Check out SurveySparrow’s resource for ideas on more specific cultural diversity questions.
In a more diverse and inclusive environment, individual effort improves by 12%, and team collaboration improves by about 50%.
Cultural diversity training can set you apart from companies that don’t prioritize it. If you have a great program in place, it helps you attract and retain the best employees in a competitive international hiring environment. It shows potential employees that you support inclusion and diversity, which is important to them.
In fact, more than three in four job hunters and employees in a Glassdoor survey said that diversity is important to them when deciding between different companies and job offers. In the same survey, one-third said they wouldn’t even apply to a company where there is a lack of diversity in employees.
To attract the best of the best, your cultural diversity training program should serve its intended purpose—promoting awareness about and sensitivity to cultural differences.
When you’re ready to design your cultural diversity training program, you’ll want to form an implementation team that includes employees from multiple cultures. Have them take part in the training and leave feedback. If you don’t have someone on the team with experience in cultural sensitivity training, you’ll need to hire a consultant to review the program and highlight areas for improvement. Before you take the training live, make sure you’ve incorporated feedback from a diverse cross-section of employees.
Two groups should be involved in the feedback process: the employees being trained and the employees who represent the cultures in the training. Select a small number of employees from each of these groups. Trainees will review the course and measure the program’s effectiveness. Your cultural representatives should be consulted about the accuracy of the training resources. Employees who take part in the feedback process should be a mix of individual contributors, managers, and executives. The very point of the training program is to ensure that all voices and inputs are heard—the creation of the program is no different.
Cultural diversity training shouldn’t be a one-off activity that employees complete during onboarding. It should be an ongoing initiative for your company. Cultural diversity trainings should be revisited at least once a year. Ideally, your program should offer regular workshops, activities, and resources, so cultural sensitivity becomes part of your company culture. An ongoing commitment to cultural diversity training reinforces that your company respects and values the culture of every employee.
Review and update your cultural diversity training program regularly so that it’s always relevant. And make sure it fits the way your workforce likes to learn, whether that’s through PDFs, training modules, in-person discussions, videos, or all of the above, through a collaborative learning approach.
You can learn more about what collaborative learning is all about in our ebook, below: