Value Of Diversity Training
Tuesday, September 29, 2020
By Sarah Calfee, San Diego SHRM Diversity Chair
Value Of Diversity Training
The words “diversity training” and “sensitivity training” sometimes trigger eye-rolling, groans, and even anger. Many employees of larger corporations have been required to attend some sort of related training in their careers. As with any training, some people walk away with a personal change and others feel it was a waste of their time and the company’s money.
To determine if a particular training was effective and added value, we must first define what the training is supposed to do. Diversity and sensitivity training is not about getting people to admit they are bigoted. It is not to get people to admit they have purposely taken advantage of being part of a particular group. It is not about getting everyone to stop expressing their opinions or talking about anything “sensitive”.
Rather, it should be about fostering a culture where groups of people are not marginalized. It should be about creating awareness of what circumstances, often unbeknownst to people involved, can lead to marginalization. It should be about developing an environment where everyone can feel valued, free to let their personality shine, and comfortable participating. As Devin C. Hughes (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion speaker and consultant) says “We need to feel like we matter. Once we have that, then we can be open.” Mr. Hughes is the expert diversity, equity, and inclusion speaker and consultant of Diversity Advantage, LLC.
Hughes urges that “we need to stop talking about diversity training as an add on.” He explains that focusing on culture and environment with some focus on employee mental wellbeing will drive inclusion and a sense of belonging.
Concurrently, we should look at the processes and practices of an organization to identify those that inherently lead to disparate impact on groups of people, particularly those that are unintentional or unseen. “This exercise can help people become open to considering those [processes and practices] that do not serve the organization’s core mission, vision, and values”, says Mr. Hughes. He further explains about training, “Information is not transformation. We need to give tools that are actionable.”
Sara Taylor, DEI expert of DeepSee Consulting agrees. “Just as we can have the best and most advanced piece of technology and yet not utilize it to its full potential because we have not been taught, we can also work in a diverse work environment and not fully utilize that diversity of perspective, identity, and approach because we haven’t been taught. Diversity and Inclusion training is meant to develop those skills necessary for all of us to be our most effective selves and for our organizations to be their most effective and productive in the midst of that diversity.”
Taylor additionally explains that research by J.J. DiStefano and M.L. Mazvneski has shown that non-diverse teams were mediocre performers compared to diverse teams. The diverse teams were both the highest and lowest performers. “what set the highest performing teams apart was the ability to utilize the resource of the diversity on their teams. Their ability to be their most effective selves in the midst of their diverse work environment – specifically their ability of cultural competence.”
She further points out that statistics show our country is becoming more diverse, with the Caucasian population gradually becoming a lower percentage of the overall population. Thus, as we naturally become more diverse, we only have two choices: “have organizations that are diverse and the lowest performing and organizations that are diverse and highest performing.” Training to use diversity to our advantage is key.
As with any education and training, activities can be performed that fail to reach the objectives. People can walk out of ineffective diversity training feeling discriminated against and marginalized – the very things the training should be trying to eliminate. In these trying times, it might feel better at times to simply walk away from fixing something broken. But, instead, we must lean into the challenge to boost what is working and recreate what is not. The challenge for diversity and inclusion trainers now is to listen to and internalize the critical feedback. Our work is far from over. So let’s keep pushing forward where we are effective and pivot and modify where we need to.
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