It’s a known fact thanks to years of research and employee surveys that training on diversity doesn’t typically work. If it’s not working, why is it a standard requirement for so many jobs? Diversity training is typically part of the new-hire onboarding process for most organizations, and more often than not, is just a click-through slideshow followed by a quiz. This same training is then repeated, annually, like clockwork. These ineffective trainings give organizations a way to maintain optics and avoid any legal penalties. Why are organizations everywhere still utilizing a tiresome training program that is consistently proven to be ineffective?
One of the biggest conundrums that organizations face is uncovering why their diversity training programs continue to fail and prove ineffective. As organizations continue to invest heavily into diversity training, L&D teams everywhere are constantly advocating to ditch old-school diversity training programs because they believe they can incite real change throughout their organization. Let’s discuss what diversity training is, some reasons why training programs fail, and how to overcome objectives regarding the effectiveness of diversity training so it’s more than just lip-service for regulatory purposes.
What exactly is diversity training?
Diversity training creates more positive interactions between colleagues, while also reducing prejudice and discrimination. Diversity training teaches individuals how to work together more effectively, equally, and collaboratively. One vital factor is that diversity training needs to be ever-changing and always evolving. What worked for your company 10 years ago, probably doesn’t apply today. Diversity training’s ultimate goal is to erase bias towards historically segregated groups. From a factual standpoint, diversity training began in the 1950’s after men returned home from the war and were appalled to find women had taken over jobs, teams, and businesses. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 then pressed for urgency on the matter, and within a decade, transformed into reactionary methods after dozens of high-profile sex-discrimination cases.
Why does diversity training fail?
It can be very difficult to change personal bias through short-term training programs. A once-a-year training requirement is unlikely to make much of a difference in the habits or behavior of employees for the long-term.
One of the most common issues with implementing effective diversity training, similar to other changes, is resistance. Resistance from employees can occur for several reasons, such as actual change not being possible, employees feel singled out or victimized, and that diversity training can actually lead to more enmity between employees by calling out the specific differences. When said employees do not feel like they have a choice to participate in a training such as this, it can oftentimes create more resistance and opposition, which will not only hinder engagement, but also participation.
Another reason that diversity training might fail to be effective is due to poor implementation strategy. A lot of organizations simply just want to “check the box” that this often-regulated training is completed. However, diversity training should always be aimed at changing behaviors. Consider options outside of the traditional classroom training exercise, such as a blended environment or mentorship program. Diversity training falls in the category of “one-size does not fit all.” It’s important to remember that diversity training calls out a lot of differences for many individuals, but not all, and therefore it’s going to be interpreted differently by all employees. Another option to consider would be microlearning modules, where employees can complete diversity training in their own space, at their own pace. It gives them the flexibility and freedom to learn this sensitive material without feeling victimized or put on the spot in a larger group.
Above all, diversity training often lacks consistency and follow through. Providing diversity training only during new hire onboarding will prove to be extremely unsuccessful. For diversity training to be successful, it must be combined into different elements of the organization such as performance, salary, and responsibilities.
Your organization will also want to make sure you have leadership buy-in from the beginning. As I continue to preach, you want to lead from the top down. Leaders are often just as resistant to change as their employees, but its’ crucial they demonstrate that a company that works together can be more profitable and also more competitive. Just learn to drop the diversity label and create a culture of inclusivity. Your diversity training program should be constantly evolving. A diverse workforce is not just a popular trend, but a key to higher employee engagement and increased profitability. Take an important step toward ensuring your employees feel like an integral part of an organization that knows, sees, and listens to them by offering training programs that reflect and honor the diversity among your teams.
Below are some steps to consider when building your diversity training program:
Ensure equal access to career development programs and build gender equality into your employee programs: Leaders need to create gender equality in training and development opportunities. They also need to ensure that all employees feel supported in their career paths and allow them to build individual confidence as they grow in their careers.
- Acknowledge biases: Training and development programs raise awareness of unconscious bias and obstacles to acceptance of differences. They illustrate what respectful workplaces look like and what they do not look like – giving all employees a reference point for appropriate and acceptable behavior.
- Embrace differences: Diversity training should celebrate experiences and values that diversity brings to your organization. Include input and feedback from your team to see if the diversity training is reflective and forward-thinking.
- Consistently improve your workplace culture: Having a successful training program in place strengthens relationships throughout your organization. Make sure that you’re consistently getting feedback and keeping up with changing circumstances, while including employees in the process.
Rebuild Your Diversity Training
Rebuilding a diverse workplace is not an easy task. It has to start from the top down. Leaders need to align and influence the organization by ensuring that every individual, from C level to the front lines, understands the vision and importance of their role and takes ownership for their actions. Diversity should be built into the core values of an organization, including ensuring that all underrepresented groups are valued and treated with respect. Since diversity training is here to stay, the most effective route will always be to encourage empathy and interaction throughout the organization. Allow your employees to commit to personal change, inside and outside of work. Make sure you’re training is happening regularly, and not just when you’re hiring a new team member. Diversity training is a necessary step towards uniting your teams for the overall goals of the organization. Remember, first and foremost, your people are your best asset.