Being a diverse organization means more than just filling out some quota for having minority groups on your teams and in your leadership roles. It means providing an inclusive work environment that makes everyone feel valued and helps them perform to the best of their abilities.
Diversity and inclusion training is a key part of creating an inclusive work environment. However, there are a lot of these programs that fail to produce results. One critical part of a successful diversity training program would be the activities that employees go through as a part of the program.
What are the best diversity activities to bring your team together? While there are no absolute answers, here are some examples of diversity training activities that may benefit your team:
This is a type of training activity that comes highly recommended by the Harvard Business Review (HBR). The basic goal of the activity is to make participants see things from the perspective of someone from a different, marginalized group of people.
According to an HBR article on diversity training activities that work:
“Results from our experiment involving 118 undergraduate students showed that taking the perspective of LGBT individuals or racial minorities – by writing a few sentences imagining the distinct challenges a marginalized minority might face – can improve prod-diversity attitudes and behavioral intentions toward these groups. These effects persisted even when outcomes were measured eight months after training.”
While the Harvard example used a written essay for their training, this kind of activity could also be done through role-play—either in groups or in one-on-one training sessions.
The efficacy of the training highlighted in the long-term attitudes of the experiment subjects may just go to show the validity of the old saying “don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.”
By making employees walk a mile in someone else’s proverbial shoes, employers can increase the employee’s awareness and sensitivity to the issues faced by others.
Addressing Stereotypes by Saying “I Am, But I Am Not”
This activity is one of many published in an MIT paper addressing different diversity & inclusion activities for scholastic and business environments. The activity has different employees self-report about key aspects of how they identify themselves, while also addressing common stereotypes about those identifying factors.
The activity has each participant fold a piece of paper in half to create two separate columns. Then, on one side, participants will write the header “I Am” and “I Am Not” on the other. In between the two sides, they will write the word “but” to create a phrase saying that “I am _____, but I am not _____.” Participants should fill in the first blank with some kind of common identifier, such as their race, religion, etc. and the second with a common stereotype about that group which is not true of them (whether the stereotype is positive or negative).
The example given in the MIT paper was “I am Asian, but I am not good at math.” The goal of this activity is to let participants “claim some of our own identities and dispel stereotypes we may believe exist about the group.”
In other words, this activity lets employees assert specific aspects of their identities to others, while confronting stereotypes so everyone involved can get to know one another.
Once everyone’s finished sharing their points, the group leader holds a debriefing to address some of the stereotypes discussed by the participants and to dig deeper into where those stereotypes come from by asking questions like “where did you first hear/learn that?” or “How did it feel to talk about that stereotype?”
Naturally, addressing stereotypes about groups can be uncomfortable for all involved. So, it might be up to the group leader to start by sharing “I am, but I am not” statements about themselves first to help others get more comfortable.
One side benefit of this activity is that it can tell team leaders a lot about how employees think others perceive them—which can be an invaluable insight for making those employees feel more welcome in the larger group.
Working Together Toward a Common Goal
Sometimes, dispelling stereotypes and improving inclusiveness in the workplace is as simple as giving a diverse team of employees a common goal and setting them to it. This is a lesson that the U.S. Army learned all the way back in World War II.
During WWII, the U.S. Army was a segregated organization, where white and non-white soldiers served in separate units, and only the white units were serving in combat roles. The politics of the time did not promote integration, but as losses mounted, General Dwight D. Eisenhower started pushing for the deployment of non-whites in combat roles and for mixed companies to be established. The use of these mixed companies had an unexpected effect on the attitude of the white troops who served alongside those of other races.
As noted in one HBR article on diversity programs, “whites whose companies had been joined by black platoons showed dramatically lower racial animus and greater willingness to work alongside blacks than those whose companies remained segregated.” The extreme situation of combat forced the soldiers in these integrated groups to adapt and see one another as brothers-in-arms first and foremost—eroding prejudices through cooperation.
The HBR article noted that this was effective for businesses as well, stating that “working side-by-side breaks down stereotypes, which leads to more equitable hiring and promotion.”
So, one of the best activities for promoting diversity and inclusion in your own workplace may be to assign diverse groups of people to the same team and have them actually work toward a common goal.
Keep in mind, there’s more to a successful diversity and inclusion training program than the specific activities you use. You also have to consider the way that said training is delivered—such as whether you want to use in-person lectures or short online training videos.