You want to have a more diverse and inclusive workplace? Everyone does. But it is not something that would happen overnight. Diversity management is a whole new science which requires studying and hard work. And for successful diversity management, training is an essential part.

Benefits of training in diversity management

If done right, training could become the biggest support for diversity in the workplace.

It helps to build awareness and cohesion at work by allowing employees to let their guards down and build healthy business relationships with coworkers. A comprehensive training program will help your employees become more sensitive to hidden resistance to changes in your workplace. More importantly, it helps you to create a better working environment by producing passionate, well-adjusted and comfortable employees and decreasing non-work-related pressures. In short, it improves the quality of work.

Training is an essential part of creating a better working environment 

Training is an essential part of creating a better working environment 

Why it often doesn’t work

A research in 2007 as a collaboration between Harvard, Berkeley, and the University of Minnesota has studied 829 companies over 31 years and found out that diversity training had “no positive effects in the average workplace”. It means that no matter how much money those organizations had spent on diversity training every year, the result remained the same.
There are some reasons that we think lead to the failure of diversity training:

Wrong purpose: It is certain that 100% of corporate leaders, when asked, would make it clear that they use diversity training to create an inclusive environment in which each member of the community is valued, respected, and can fully contribute their talents. That includes reducing bias and increasing the diversity of the employee and management population. In fact, by the way that diversity training is organized in many organizations, it is easy to see that many don’t really use diversity training for that purpose. Instead, they use it to avoid conflicts and any legal challenges caused by employee’s misconduct.

Take an example of the most common diversity training modules that we’ve found. Most training would start first with defining diversity and then continue with situation workshop that aims to trigger critical thinking about prejudice, power, and entitlement. This training module is not wrong, in fact, it is very direct and straight to the point. However, by showing what is right or wrong, it gives people a false sense of confidence since it couldn’t possibly cover every single situation. Or even worse, rather than changing attitudes of prejudice and bias, it solidified them.

Wrong diversity approach: In a different article, we were telling organizations to stop putting people in different boxes. Workplace diversity, in fact, has been defined and measured from the angle of demographic management. It is, of course, a more simplified method but it is also dehumanizing. People are far more complex than demographic categories and presenting your employees with those categories do nothing better than increasing their prejudice and encouraging stereotype.

Diversity training just doesn’t work: As mentioned before, no matter how much you try and how much money you can spend on diversity training. It doesn’t work anymore, in fact, it has never worked. People’s perception of diversity won’t just change after one training and it won’t get better.

Research shows that diversity training had "no positive impact in average workplace"

Research shows that diversity training had "no positive impact in average workplace"

How to create a training program that works

First of all, drop all that diversity training! If it doesn’t work, why keep it? You should stop training people for diversity acceptance. Instead, help them to understand themselves as an individual, know their differences and appreciate those differences. Train them for flexibility, sensitiveness, and adaptability so when they have to come and work in a different environment, with a different group of individuals, they will be able to blend in and still be themselves. 

Pay attention to the importance of communication. Communication barrier is often defined as the biggest challenge for diversity and inclusion, so let’s deal with it first. By enhancing communication skills in your employees, you help them to have a better conversation with people, not only who they work with but also who they meet in life. They learned to listen and speak with respect to different individuals, which is the key to creating an inclusive working environment. 

Work on your business culture. Despite the personal differences, your own culture is the one similarity that connects everyone together. It represents the collective values, beliefs, and principles of every single individual so if diversity and inclusion is one part of your organizational culture, it will reflect naturally in everyone’s behavior.