Why Your Diversity Training Won’t Work

Earlier this year, Starbucks paused it operations of 8,000 stores for unconscious bias training. Soon after the announcement, I landed three new clients desiring to facilitate conversations and launch initiatives around issues of diversity and inclusion for their organization. The majority of my work, like others who work in this area, is spent customizing content for the trainings and crafting a strategy to support them. I predict more of these trainings will be a priority for organizations, and recommend that consumers hold them accountable for doing the work.

But there’s a major issue with diversity trainings. Many of them won’t work.

Even if you offer multiple trainings, or a series of events and workshops, the experience will have no impact if you have overlooked the most important element any organization must implement – a strategy.

Aerial Ellis Training Diversity Inclusion Intergenerational

Any training or learning event should be tactic inside a larger diversity strategy because most times when training is treated like an activity, the learning experience is much less effective and not seen as a deliberate part of the organizational culture. Without a strategic plan to support your diversity and inclusion initiatives, your trainings are merely an exercise.

Because corporate America has historically struggled to communicate the value of employees and consumers who represent cultural differences, the atmosphere or climate of an organization can have varying effects on employee outcomes and organizational effectiveness. In order for your trainings to work, they must be supported by a strategic plan that advances a dedication to diversity and internalizes a culture of inclusion.

A plan establishes diversity and inclusion as a strategic imperative. It means your organization is committed to the practice of diversity and inclusion and is not simply having a conversation. If your trainings are an attempt to develop core competencies for your employees that will enable them to work more effectively inside a diverse workforce and approach consumer audiences with greater cultural awareness, then a strategic plan should include a focus to examine trainings to determine their effectiveness.

Developing a plan can be based on a competency-based framework for practicing diversity and inclusion. A few proven models that can support your plan include Darla Deardorff’s Process Model of Intercultural Competence (2006), The Conference Board’s Report on Global Competencies (2008) and UNC’s Diversity Competencies for Leadership Development (2016). These examples offer competencies that organizations can strategically use as metrics for regular analysis and data collection.

Implementing a strategic plan ensures that diversity and inclusion will be:

• embedded throughout the organization

• engaged across functions and departments

• executed through communication with consumers and communities

• evaluated for effectiveness through business outcomes.

Aerial Ellis Training Diversity Inclusion Intergenerational

To value diversity is to be expected but to have measurable knowledge and skills on how cultural differences can work best inside the organization, and how to communicate effectively about those similarities and differences, is to be strategic.

Your employees may be relieved to know that your organization is attempting to have a conversation around issues of diversity and inclusion – trainings increase one’s cultural knowledge, ability to empathize, understanding of cultural differences and willingness to face challenges.

Unfortunately, if treated like an exercise, your employees can suffer from pressure to participate, resentment of false commitment and the likelihood of losing interest. Trainings should be not a “check the box” exercise.

Organizations cannot trade tactics for strategies. Conducting trainings for diversity is a wasted effort without a strategic plan in place to activate inclusion.

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