By Danny Aspinall
ED&I has rightly raced up the agenda of many industries in recent years, including the tech sector, which has long been guilty of poor representation across different genders, ethnicities, and backgrounds.
In fact, when surveying AWS professionals in the Jefferson Frank Careers and Hiring Guide: AWS Edition, we found that almost half (49%) of respondents self-reported as white or Caucasian and 25% as Asian—while only 6% self-reported as Black, African, or Caribbean, and just 5% as Hispanic or Latino.
Likewise, representation across genders returned equally disheartening results, with 82% of respondents identifying as male and just 16% as female. Additionally, only two respondents identified as transgender and two as non-binary, while 3% preferred not to specify their gender.
Unfortunately, this data is reflective of a much wider industry problem that needs addressing—and fast.
Not only are diverse workforces proven to be more productive, creative, and profitable (Indeed), but a poll by SIA found that three-quarters (75%) of Gen Z professionals would reconsider applying for a role if they weren’t satisfied with the organization’s ED&I efforts.
When considering that Gen Z—the most diverse and socially active demographic in today’s professional landscape—will make up 27% of the workforce in OECD countries by 2025, investing in ED&I is now an essential part of an employer’s ability to attract and retain talent.
But it’s absolutely essential that this is done authentically.
Empty slogans and unsubstantiated claims won’t get you far—you need to be prepared to walk the walk by properly investing in a culture that celebrates diversity and encourages equality.
Workplace diversity training is a popular approach organizations have embraced to bolster their ED&I efforts, and providing this is implemented correctly, it can be effective at fostering this all-important inclusive culture from the top down in an authentic and impactful way.
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Whether you choose to bring in a third party for your workplace diversity training or implement it through qualified in-house representatives, there are benefits for both employers and employees alike.
It’s very rare for an organization to intentionally create an unequal workplace, with unconscious biases often having a significant impact without an employer even realizing it.
Workplace diversity training not only educates organizations on the different types of unconscious biases and how to spot them, but also encourages employers to reflect on how they might be impacting operations in their business, from the hiring process to the day-to-day.
It can be tough to critique your own way of doing things, especially when intentions are good, but diversity training helps to reflect on this in an objective and well-informed manner, maximizing its impact as a result.
Workplace diversity training provides employers and employees with a greater understanding of what ED&I is and why it’s so important, enabling greater empathy across teams.
This contributes to a company culture that is more respectful and inclusive, where teams are more aware of how they behave and interact with one another. As a result, the number of workplace conflicts is decreased, and those that do occur can be de-escalated more effectively.
For employees, this creates a safer workspace in which they feel confident in expressing their authentic selves, and for employers, it helps to minimize HR and potential legal issues.
By instilling objective values and fairer processes into the roots of your organization, workplace diversity training helps to cultivate a more equal work environment and company culture that not just embraces inclusion, but encourages it.
This means equal opportunity for all employees—something our research has shown is lacking across many teams. For example, only two-thirds (68%) of professionals we surveyed in our Careers and Hiring Guide believe everyone can succeed at their organization regardless of their background or characteristics, while just 56% believe promotion decisions are made fairly.
Workplace diversity training helps organizations to identify and amend these imbalances to improve representation across all levels of a business.
ED&I is becoming more and more important to the modern workforce, meaning it’s become all but integral to your ability to attract and retain top talent.
In fact, research from Glassdoor found that as many as three out of every four job seekers report that a diverse workforce is one of the most important factors to them when evaluating companies and job offers.
As a result, investing in workplace diversity training is not only effective in proving you care about representation as much as your employees do, but also in creating a more attractive team that prospective candidates can’t wait to join!
Unfortunately, it’s far too common for ED&I initiatives to be treated as box-ticking exercises. If the aim of the game is simply to fulfill quotas and say the right things, your diversity efforts will lack authenticity and impact—and it will show.
The right workplace diversity training will ensure you’re not just talking the talk, but putting the right steps in place to take action. While this starts at the top level with the senior staff capable of implementing change, it also encompasses staff lower down the chain by showing them how and why to become workplace allies.
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There are many different approaches you can take to workplace diversity training, and what works best for one organization might not be the best for another. That being said, these four approaches are widely considered to be the best methods and exercises to successfully promote a more positive company culture and inclusive workforce.
Diversity audits are the best place to start your journey into workplace diversity and inclusion training, as they enable you to assess your current practices and identify your strengths and weaknesses. These findings can inform the rest of your training to ensure it’s as impactful as possible, targeting your weak spots and addressing the areas where there’s room for the most improvement.
Audits ensure there’s objectivity to your assessment and can be applied to anything from individual colleague relationships to the overall work environment, promoting more progressive attitudes and improving transparency across an organization
Don’t just do a one-off audit and call it a day, however. Look to conduct diversity and inclusion audits regularly, treating them as checkpoints to measure your progress and identify where you need to focus your training efforts next.
Basic diversity training is another popular starting point for workplace ED&I training, as it focuses on implementing the core values and attitudes essential to an inclusive and equal company culture. In particular, basic diversity training sets out to create an atmosphere of empathy and respect amongst your workforce, and instills the basic practices, processes, and values fundamental to an organization that properly promotes ED&I.
With a core focus on foundational areas that underlie discrimination and harassment—such as racism, sexism, and homophobia—this training sets out to educate a workforce about the diverse groups that employees encounter in the workplace day to day.
These exercises also tend to highlight basic HR compliance, covering the reporting chains and structures within your organization to teach employees how to deal with workplace diversity conflicts correctly. And best of all, this method is easily delivered through mobile learning approaches—making it convenient and cost-effective for organizations with remote teams to still deliver the message.
Awareness training is the first step towards creating real change within your company by laying the groundwork for action. It focuses not only on explaining the need for change but also on how to map out your route and put that plan into motion—and because of this, it’s considered a very effective method for all organizations.
Training gives teams a thorough overview of their workplace, educating them on the different demographics that fall within it, and teaching them more about the individuals that belong to these groups. It discusses personal behavior as well as wider systemic issues and is concerned with improving awareness around the matters that concern diverse groups most.
Awareness training promotes workplace equality by painting a comprehensive picture of what it looks like, and how to spot elements that aren’t conducive to this inclusivity. It encourages employees to reflect on their own actions and how they’re experienced by others, educating them on the benefits of a truly inclusive workplace to encourage everyone to be their best and authentic selves. Because of this, it’s also super-effective in shifting your team’s mindset to one of collective belonging, which helps create a culture that’s more empathetic and informed.
With so many benefits to these training exercises, it’s key that you keep employees engaged throughout, so consider how this type of training is delivered, too. For example, try to keep groups small and sessions short for in-person sessions, and consider incorporating elements of gamification if delivering sessions remotely or online.
With your team knowledgeable and aware, it’s time to equip them with the tools they need to implement change—this is where skill-based workplace diversity training comes into its own.
This training method is intended to spur employees who now have a strong understanding of ED&I into a place they feel comfortable handling the issues surrounding it. But to do this, they need to feel proficient in decision-making and have a sufficient understanding of the right way to approach these sensitive problems.
Skills-based diversity training should be delivered session by session, focusing on a different skill each time to allow employees time to develop their understanding and build their confidence in implementing what they’ve learned. For example, one session could be focused on developing inclusive communication, equipping attendees with the tools and actions needed to communicate in a way that doesn’t exclude or discriminate.
These should be delivered in groups to ensure collaboration in cultivating your equal workplace, but for the most success, consider running separate sessions for senior team members based on the skills they need for their roles. For example, you might opt to deliver an exclusive session for hiring managers on the skills they need to minimize recruitment biases, or another for team leaders on making fairer promotion decisions.
In the end, the aim of this intermediate-level training is to demonstrate how to take action and help teams to build tangible skill sets that contribute to a fairer work environment. As a result, it’s impactful in helping workforces to mitigate unconscious and implicit biases, be more accommodating of different beliefs and values, and eradicate microaggressions, stereotypes, discrimination, and more.
Workplace diversity training can inspire real results when implemented successfully.
One academic study that examined 40 years of research on diversity training, points to how workplace diversity training has the potential to positively address biases and prejudice within organizations. Elsewhere, research from a team of American psychologists found that staff who received the training reported they were significantly more able to successfully engage with diversity initiatives.
However, when workplace diversity training is implemented half-heartedly, without proper direction, or from an authoritative source, it can be significantly less successful—or worse still, even have the opposite effect.
Research from UK-based global social purpose organization, The Behavioral Insights Team, substantiated a number of hypotheses for why workplace diversity training can backfire, including:
This highlights the importance of delivering workplace diversity training with purpose—so what does that look like?
While it may initially sound counter-productive, there is significant research to suggest that making workplace diversity training mandatory can make your efforts less impactful.
Yet despite this, research from the chair of the Department of Sociology at Harvard University, Frank Dobbin, found that 80% of corporations in the US designate their workplace diversity training as mandatory, analyzing a wave of negative consequences as a result.
For example, Dobbin notes how employees perceive these sessions as much less palatable than if they were voluntary, with many turning off and subsequently failing to engage. This may be because employees feel the training isn’t relevant to them as they’re not racist or sexist, for example, or because mandatory training can be seen as an interruption to their workload and schedule.
Likewise, Alexandra Kalev, a professor of social sciences at Princeton, notes how “a lot of our research shows training makes the dominant group—usually white men—feel threatened and fearful of being excluded. They fight back instead of internalizing [the training].” As a result, these employees resentfully view the training as a tick-box exercise and rebel to become pessimistic of its value, and in the worst cases, this can even serve to reinforce biases.
But with further research from The Behavioral Insights Team indicating that positive effects of in-depth training became more likely to persist once a minimum of 25% of team members participated in it, it’s important not just to declare your training optional and deliver to whoever turns up.
Instead, don’t make your training mandatory, but ensure you’re properly communicating its value to encourage as many enthusiastic participants as possible to have the most success. But remember: success shouldn’t be judged on the number of participants, but the level of action.
A 2019 study found that the kind of diversity training institutions often favor the most are “short, one-shot sessions that can be completed and the requisite diversity boxes ticked”. However, the same researchers concluded that this method is unlikely to make a difference in the habits or long-term behavior of participants.
This ‘one and done’ box-ticking approach to workplace diversity training isn’t usually because of a lack of care or quality—many diversity training programs are well designed. However, particularly for larger organizations, the cost constraints of larger payrolls can result in content being condensed and delivered by non-authoritative internal trainers.
Yet if you want your diversity training to be worthwhile, it’s key that you’re willing to embrace the costs and resource expenses needed to deliver it with impact. Even more so when considering that short-term training leads to short-term results—to properly embed ED&I into your company culture, training needs to be a part of the very fabric of your organization. Instead of one-time events and annual training days, look to offer a series of regular programs and initiatives that encourage continual learning.
As noted by Jonathan Coffin, former co-chair of the diversity and inclusion practice group at Vox Global, “the most successful companies don’t view workshops as a one-and-done event but an opportunity to reinforce and build on a larger cultural commitment.” In short, the more common your workplace diversity training is, the more impact it has in positively reinforcing the right behaviors, and the less it feels like a negative lecture on wrongdoings.
Passive training programs can quickly become stale. To engage your employees and ensure your training is impactful, you need to avoid it feeling like a long, boring, lecture—this will only serve to further the negative backlash aforementioned.
Instead, get creative and think of how you can mix up your delivery across sessions. For example, while some training exercises will be better delivered in-person, why not utilize mobile learning methods for sessions that can be delivered online?
Likewise, adopting gamification and different media types can help to keep employees engaged and can go a significant way in helping them not just to pay attention, but retain the information you deliver. Perhaps the most effective way of ensuring training is memorable and impactful is by rooting it in real life experiences, whether that be in workplace scenarios or the personal experiences of your employees. Look to encourage these conversations in a controlled and comfortable setting to help develop awareness and understanding, but always be mindful that these conversations are being facilitated in a sensitive way.
Finally, contrary to the name, workplace diversity training can also be delivered outside of the workplace with great effect.
Enrolling in community engagement programs through volunteering opportunities and the like enables your employees to put their newfound skills and knowledge into real-world application. Firstly, this builds their appreciation for the importance of ED&I not just in the workplace, but also in wider society. Secondly, it’s a great opportunity for teams to gain greater exposure to individuals of different backgrounds, identities, and circumstances.
Remember: diversity training is all about inspiring action.
As a result, it’s not enough to think about workplace diversity training as a sufficient ED&I strategy—a mistake made by a surprising number of organizations. Instead, it should be an integral part of your wider ED&I objectives, and be considered as the roadmap that helps you get closer to your goals.
Your approach to ED&I shouldn’t be just a destination but a journey, and so your training should be intrinsically tied to your company’s mission and reflect your core values, as explained by Stan Kimer, Vice President of Training at the National Diversity Council. “[DE&I training] should tie diversity and inclusion to the vision, mission, values, and goals of the organization, and then move into how to value all aspects of diversity with co-workers, clients, customers, and the community at large.”
By demonstrating to your employees how your organization embraces the practices, processes, and commitments you’re promoting in your training, it becomes more authentic—and in turn, employees will be more receptive.
To motivate your team to play their role in creating an inclusive and equal company culture, you must lead by example—and demonstrating how the contents of your training align with what your organization is doing to celebrate ED&I is the most powerful way of doing this.
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