Diversity training in the workplace
Training & Learning

How to Make Diversity Training a Top Priority in the Workplace

Diversity consultants nearly went out of business as budgets for diversity training in the workplace dried up during the pandemic. Then, George Floyd’s death made the world sit up in outrage. The incident led to nationwide demonstrations calling for police reform and underlined the importance of diversity training. Diversity professionals were answering frantic calls as CEOs scrambled to tweet their stance on diversity and wondered if they should join the #blackouttuesday movement by not posting anything but a black screen on Instagram for a day. Diversity training once again became a priority as suddenly as it had been put on the back burner.

But diversity training in the workplace needs to be more than a reaction to a racial incident or a compliance training checkbox to fill.

The right type of diversity training helps you raise awareness among employees and build a truly diverse and inclusive workplace. When employees feel a sense of belonging and psychological safety, they are motivated to stay with your company. Plus, a diverse talent pool is more productive and innovative—a necessity for business growth and profitability. 

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Diverse workplaces enjoy a stronger brand and reputation

Embracing diversity helps you build a reputation as a workplace that recognizes and values different identities, cultures, and backgrounds. In a truly inclusive environment, every employee feels a sense of belonging. This is especially true for employees from minority groups who feel welcomed and empowered to bring their whole self to work without fear of feeling “different” or “singled out.” 

And your employees are already talking about their experiences. Review sites like Glassdoor, LinkedIn, Trustpilot, and even Google reviews encourage employees to comment on their diversity and inclusion experience and company culture. These sites also allow prospective employees to view company demographics on racial and ethnic origin, gender, and veteran status. A stellar reputation in this area will show that your company takes diversity training in the workplace seriously—and help you attract a more diverse team. 

When it comes to the financial health of the business, a lack of diversity, especially in leadership, could lead to public backlash, penalties, and even being delisted from the Nasdaq stock exchange. That kind of notoriety is hard to disassociate from and takes years to bounce back from. Instead, keep your reputation intact by fostering the right beliefs and values and take concrete steps to make diversity training in the workplace a genuine reality.

Review sites like Glassdoor, LinkedIn, Trustpilot, and even Google reviews encourage employees to comment on their diversity and inclusion experience and company culture.

Diversity training raises awareness and sensitivity in the workplace 

Diversity training in the workplace isn’t just about looking good; it’s about being a good place to work, too. When employees become mindful of different cultures, ethnicities, beliefs, experiences, sexual orientations, and identities, they can empathize with co-workers, so people feel comfortable sharing their lived experiences. As a result, you open communication channels, strengthen workplace relationships, and create a culture of acceptance through genuine and meaningful connections.

A sense of awareness is particularly important for managers and leadership to navigate issues objectively and to help bring out the best in their teams. But a closed-minded workplace does the opposite—it negatively impacts team morale and hinders open communication. A study revealed that only 39% of employees who have a disability had disclosed it to their managers. Even fewer (24%) shared it with their teams, which points to a lack of trust and comfort in workplaces. 

A focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training in the workplace is the key to raising awareness levels and enabling employees to share their personal stories with the knowledge that they will be met with sensitivity and acceptance. 

Related: Here’s How L&D Teams Can Celebrate Pride Month at Work (and Support Their LGBTQIA+ Colleagues)

Diversity training in the workplace helps you attract and retain talent 

Millennials and Gen Zers want to work at diverse companies. These generations, who are set to comprise a majority of the workforce, are actively seeking out diverse employers, pushing their current employers toward DEI efforts, and even boycotting the companies that don’t prioritize diversity training in the workplace. In fact, a Diversity and Inclusion Workplace Survey from Glassdoor found that 32% of job seekers wouldn’t even apply to a company that lacks diversity. 

A diverse work environment with gender, income, ethnic, and racial equality is bound to attract candidates and retain them. According to Gartner, an employee’s intent to stay improves by 20% in a diverse company. Plus, when you employ these champions of equity and diversity, your organization is already in a better place because you are building allyship within the company. It is often these champions who go on to support Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and affinity groups that become safe spaces for minority groups and give them a reason to stick around.

In addition, continuous diversity training in the workplace ensures your managers and recruiters are implementing best practices when it comes to hiring, managing performance, and providing equal learning opportunities. When employees see growth and career potential regardless of their background, gender, or identity, they are motivated to stay longer at your company, boosting retention.

Related: How to Leverage Employee Training to Craft a Holistic DEI Program

Diverse teams are faster at decision-making and problem-solving

A rich exchange of ideas and perspectives leads to faster decision-making and greater problem-solving, which in turn fuels innovation and business growth. In other words, diverse teams result in a diversity of ideas and perspectives. 

But we tend to spend time (and easily connect) with people who share our background and/or look like us. As a result of this social barrier, we miss out on different perspectives and end up with formulaic solutions. Social network research shows that people who connect with colleagues from different backgrounds have access to fresh information and new resources. 

For this knowledge sharing to happen, employees need to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and experimenting. But “ethnic minority and migrant employees” are often reluctant to share knowledge, especially if they feel excluded or “othered”  in their workplace. DEI training can encourage management to involve employees at all levels in decision-making, invite every employee to contribute, and recognize their contributions—key components in a culture of collaboration

As a result of this social barrier, we miss out on different perspectives and end up with formulaic solutions.

DEI training opens the door to collaboration and peer feedback

When employees know that their company values and celebrates diversity, they feel confident about collaborating with peers and exchanging feedback with them. This confidence comes from feeling welcomed and respected and knowing that their contributions are worthwhile. Research shows that in a diverse and inclusive workforce, team collaboration improves by a solid 50%.

Diverse workforces also help employees become stronger team players who are open to giving and receiving feedback in the right spirit. In a collaborative environment, employees participate in a continuous feedback loop to improve their performance and learn from each other. This is possible when peers trust each other and understand that the feedback is constructive and not personal. But those trusted workplace relationships are difficult to form without adequate DEI training.  

Create a diversity training roadmap that centers on collaboration and iteration

There’s no sugarcoating the fact that most diversity training programs delivered by organizations are ineffective. According to researchers, organizations favor “short, one-shot sessions that can be completed and the requisite diversity boxes ticked.” These interventions, provided in the name of DEI training, don’t change the habits or behavior of participants because they don't engage employees. 

Diversity training in the workplace needs to have a strategic focus on collaboration and iteration to be successful. The type, timing, and adequacy of your DEI training are pivotal to its success. In addition, you need a training roadmap and the ability to be agile and switch gears when you find something isn’t working. 

Dream big but start small with a diversity audit

A one-size-fits-all DEI program that can solve all diversity issues in one fell swoop does not exist. But companies often attempt to make bold changes that inevitably fail because the changes outsize what the company can reasonably accomplish. It’s smarter to take small steps that affect long-lasting change. A simple diversity audit will help you identify your specific DEI training needs

A diversity audit can include examining your current content (company website, wiki pages, blog posts, job descriptions) to make sure it’s accessible and uses inclusive language. Or maybe you choose to reflect on current employee demographics to evaluate how inclusive your hiring practices and promotion criteria are. Or you can conduct interviews and surveys and use focus groups to determine areas of DEI that your company needs to improve on. 

To ensure even your audit is inclusive, a smart way to conduct it is to ask employees to come forward and present their training needs. But how? You want a tool that utilizes the knowledge within your company. 360Learning has a learning needs tool that prompts employees to request new areas of training. 

When an employee requests a training program through 360Learning, they are encouraged to share the request with co-workers so that others in the company can upvote it and add to the momentum. L&D teams can see the number of upvotes on each area of DEI training and prioritize the topic that got the maximum votes. This bottom-up approach means that you’re creating training that employees want and will complete

Get leadership buy-in with data that shows ROI

A diverse workforce helps companies succeed. For instance, an analysis by McKinsey shows that companies with gender diversity at the executive level are 25% more likely to be more profitable than companies who have lower gender diversity. 

But stats alone won’t convince leadership to invest in diversity training in the workplace. You need hard evidence to get leadership buy-in for diversity training in the workplace. More importantly, you’ll need to show them the return on investment (ROI) for effective diversity training with the help of research and case studies.

Conduct research on your competitors who’ve successfully implemented diversity as a key business function that helped drive growth. Highlight the risks associated with not taking adequate efforts to improve diversity, like discrimination lawsuits, but also note that diversity training in the workplace needs to be more than a business or legal need. 

Finally, take the results of your DEI audit to leadership and be honest about the diversity issues within the company. Combined with the evidence of the concrete benefits that come from transforming organizational culture through diversity efforts, your C-suite is more likely to be on board. 

Highlight the risks associated with not taking adequate efforts to improve diversity, like discrimination lawsuits, but also note that diversity training in the workplace needs to be more than a business or legal need. 

Take a collaborative approach to avoid resistance

DEI training is tricky because it forces people to come face to face with the many facets of human existence—identities, behaviors, privileges, and unconscious biases. And attempts to make sweeping changes can make majority groups feel targeted, while programs that are just all talk can make marginalized groups feel even more discouraged. It’s hardly surprising that diversity programs, especially the mandatory ones, are met with anger and resistance and sometimes result in more animosity.

Instead, a collaborative approach that involves employees in the decision-making around DEI training can go a long way. Employees feel empowered and have a stake in the training that they had a part in creating. In fact, you can invite subject matter experts within your organization to become course authors. A platform like 360Learning has a built-in authoring tool that lets employees create courses quickly and easily and leaves room for peer feedback and revisions. Employees are more likely to warm up to and connect with personalized material created by a peer than a generic training course.

Diversify your DEI training 

There’s no silver bullet to solve all your DEI problems in one shot. You need to diversify your training with a variety of tactics to reach different people within your organization. 

For instance, if you have a clear need for anti-bias training, you can choose a ready-made program or build your own with a collaborative learning LMS. But don’t stop there. You need to train managers to be aware of their own implicit biases during hiring and performance evaluations as well. It’s also a good time to reevaluate policies around flex time and remote work for working parents or caregivers, for example. All of these together can make a deeper impact on improving diversity in the workplace.

Related: How to Level the Playing Field for Women in the Workplace

Collect data on a regular basis

Without data, you don’t know whether your DEI initiatives are making an impact or where you need to make adjustments. Diversity metrics often focus on numbers, like hiring X more employees of color or ERG participation. Companies tend to overlook qualitative metrics like changes in behavior and attitudes toward marginalized groups and feelings of inclusion or employee engagement, probably because they are challenging to measure

Lean on surveys and one-on-one conversations to gather employee feedback on diversity and inclusion training. Research from Gartner identified seven key dimensions you can use to measure inclusion:

  1. Fair treatment – employees are recognized and rewarded fairly for their contributions.
  2. Integrating differences – employees respect each other.
  3. Decision-making – employees value ideas and suggestions from team members. 
  4. Psychological safety – employees can share their true feelings and be themselves.
  5. Trust – employees engage in honest and open communication. 
  6. Belonging – employees care about each other.
  7. Diversity – there is diversity at all levels of the organization, including leadership.

Use these dimensions to frame your questions and conversations when collecting data and feedback from employees.

Experiment with diverse learning solutions like gamification and microlearning

If your diversity training is falling flat, you need to change track or reintroduce training in other ways. For instance, if your course completion rates are low, you could gamify your DEI training through quizzes and mock scenarios to increase employee engagement. 

And with companies switching to remote and hybrid work, learners prefer training in bite-sized chunks at a time and place convenient to them. With microlearning and mobile learning formats, employees can complete DEI training modules in a few minutes on their phones while they are commuting or eating breakfast. When employees willingly access diversity training, they retain more information and can complete the course without getting bored.

Protect your DEI training and your employees from diversity fatigue 

It has been two years since the rush to hire diversity experts who specialize in racism, bias, and inclusion, but little has changed. Rote messaging around diversity and mandatory DEI initiatives actually leads to diversity fatigue and has a negative impact on employees. In fact, 69% of Americans see through the corporate messaging about racism and believe that it comes from pressure rather than a real commitment to the issue. The task for leaders everywhere is to protect diversity training from this fatigue and approach it with genuine dedication. A first step is to accept your own biases and the issues that exist in relation to workplace diversity.