Our world (and our own personal bubble) is growing more complex and interconnected at an astonishing pace. As technology makes it possible to work seamlessly with people all over the world, employers are starting to understand that effectively managing diversity is an essential component to achieving their business goals.
Today's employees must adapt to this highly interconnected and diverse world. People with many different work styles, values, ideas, approaches, and other unique dimensions are being asked to work together to achieve a common goal - business success.
However, learning to work together-despite our differences-doesn't always come naturally. In a diverse and global workplace, even subtle personal differences (and often those not protected by employment laws) can have a significant impact both on employee productivity and engagement, and your organization's bottom line.
As with any other skill, employees need to learn to appreciate differences and to work collaboratively. And that's where diversity and inclusion training comes in. Thoughtful and engaging training - separate and distinct from harassment and EEO training - will help prepare your employees to appreciate, manage and even successfully leverage differences. This in turn will not just create a better working environment, but will also help your organization to achieve bottom line business success.
So what should you look for in diversity training and what should you avoid? The most effective diversity and inclusion training programs will:
- Include Everyone: Training should show learners how diversity benefits every employee, and that the program is not just for women or minorities.
- Go Beyond Harassment & EEO: Your program should teach learners about the broad array of personal differences. Don't just cover the legally protected categories.
- Make the Business Case for Diversity: Teach employees about the power of diversity and inclusion, and how it helps the organization compete more effectively in a global and diverse marketplace.
- Grab Their Attention: Engage your employees with interactive lessons and examples that are contemporary and realistic. Training should inspire learners to think about their personal actions, biases and decisions. Show them, don't just tell them.
- Invest in High Quality Media: There is no other type of training that is more sensitive when it comes to casting, acting, storylines and production values. A schlocky, "thrown-together" program on your commitment to diversity and inclusion is counterproductive. Understand that your workforce's media expectations are high - especially in an area that deals with interpersonal dynamics. A program that only features white male perpetrators or that misses entire issues or groups of people can do more damage than good.
- Give Them Actionable Guidance: Help your learners implement the important lessons they have learned. Give them practical guidance that they can apply every day to support your organization's diversity and inclusion efforts.
- Don't Create Legal Liability: Share the wrong message or share it in the wrong way, and your organization could find itself faced with litigation. Diversity and inclusion training addresses extremely sensitive topics, like race, sexual orientation and age. Be careful not to fall for programs that are based on gimmicks and assessments that don't work, or that ask learners to share personal biases, record their thoughts, or engage in other risky behaviors.
- Deliver a Consistent Message to Everyone: At the end of the day your training message should be clear and consistent. You want employees to understand that diversity and inclusion are part of your organization's core values, and everyone is expected to support the efforts. That means training all employees, periodically, and with consistent content. The most cost effective and efficient way to do this is with online training.
As more and more organizations realize that diversity training is critical to business success, education initiatives will receive appropriate funding and the number of employers investing in training will continue to increase.
Any organization that chooses to invest in diversity training must recognize that the stakes are high, and a "check-the-box" effort is completely unviable. Diversity and inclusion issues are challenging, nuanced and constantly evolving. Training programs, both live and online, should be closely scrutinized - whether developed internally or procured externally. The guidelines above hopefully give you a great start place.