Diversity training programs can help make your organization a better place for people to work—improving employee engagement, productivity, and retention. A diverse workforce brings together many different perspectives, skills, and experiences that can help everyone benefit by working together.
However, if the program is introduced in the wrong way, it can cause employees to resist rather than embrace diversity. As noted by one Harvard Business Review (HBR) article, “trainers tell us that people often respond to compulsory courses with anger and resistance—and many participants actually report more animosity toward other groups afterward.”
Part of ensuring that your diversity training program succeeds is introducing it in a way so that employees embrace it rather than dismiss it. How can you introduce diversity training programs to your organization this year? Here are a few ideas:
1) Work Diversity Training into Other Initiatives
In the movie Mary Poppins, the title character sings a song about how “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” This is a similar concept.
Rather than making employees explicitly take a diversity training course, you could work elements of diversity training into other training programs and initiatives in your organization. One example of this can be found in the enterprise software company NetSuite. The company launched a special mentorship program for their female employees that partnered them with senior employees two levels above them in the organization.
As noted in a Fast Company article, NetSuite’s “program includes a number of structured events that allow for networking, many of which are part of the broader Women in NetSuite program.” This exposed both the company’s up-and-coming female leaders and their mentors to new points of view and perspectives, helping to bolster diversity and inclusion among both groups while simultaneously working to increase gender diversity in the company’s leadership roles.
By structuring their mentoring program with diversity training goals in mind, NetSuite was able to meet some diversity goals—even though the mentoring program was not explicitly about diversity and inclusion.
2) By Using Diversity Activities in Group Meetings
There are a wide range of creative activities that organizations can use to get across the vital lessons of diversity training. Introducing some of these activities to employees as a part of other team-building meetings can work wonders for helping employees embrace diversity training as a regular part of their development.
Some effective diversity training activities that you can use in small group sessions with employees include:
- Perspective-Taking Activities. The goal of this activity is to help participants see things from the point of view of a different, marginalized group of people. This helps to increase awareness of (and sensitivity towards) the issues faced by others. These activities can be done using short essays, or by engaging in role-play sessions in small groups or pairs.
- Stereotype Addressing Activities. One example of this is the “I am, but I am not” activity outlined in an MIT paper covering diversity and inclusion activities for students. In this activity, participants are encouraged to address the stereotypes, both positive and negative, that people have about the participant’s race, religion, or other common identifier and refute the stereotypes one by one. This activity can help individuals assert their personal identity while confronting stereotypes. This can get uncomfortable, so the group leader may need to get things started to break the ice—and leave participation up to the individuals in the group without forcing the issue.
- Setting Teams with Diverse Backgrounds on a Shared Task/Goal. One way to erode prejudices (both conscious and unconscious) is to have people work together to meet a shared objective. As noted in the previously mentioned HBR article, “working side-by-side breaks down stereotypes, which leads to more equitable hiring and promotion.” Of course, this can result in some short-term friction, so it should be handled with care.
All of these activities can help to improve your organization’s progress towards its diversity and inclusion goals. They can also help to serve as a soft launch for a larger diversity training program where you can collect data about how these activities impact employee performance, retention, and engagement.
3) Make It a Part of Your Company’s Onboarding Process and Mission Statement
One of the most successful examples of a diversity and inclusion initiative on the planet can be found in Google. Part of the reason the company is so successful at attracting and hiring a diverse pool of candidates is that they focus strongly on creating diversity-focused hiring paths for new applicants.
By making diversity and inclusion a part of the company culture from day one of every employee’s time with the company, Google helps to ensure that every employee is on the same page when it comes to the importance of diversity and inclusion to the company. This, in turn, makes it easier to introduce diversity training programs and have them be seen not as a punitive or corrective measure, but as a simple and ordinary part of the company’s day-to-day activities. It also helps Google attract many of the best and brightest talents straight out of college.
Additionally, the focus on diversity in Google’s hiring practices makes it easier for the company to maintain a diverse and inclusive workforce. As noted in the aforementioned HBR article on attracting the best college talent, “five years after a company implements a college recruitment program targeting female employees, the share of white women, black women, Hispanic women, and Asian-American women in its management rises by about 10%, on average.” Basically, working to hire more members of a specific group helps boost that group’s representation among your company’s leadership in the long term.
Introducing a diversity training program to your employees can be an enormous challenge, but it is well worth the effort to create a welcoming environment that encourages everyone to participate.
Need help providing your employees with great learning program content that helps them meet your diversity and inclusion goals? Big Think+ has hundreds of video lessons—including ones from workplace gurus who have successfully led major inclusion initiatives.