The importance of diversity training and where it can go wrong

Over the last few years, diversity and inclusion training has solidified a place on most large companies training lists. This trend has led to D&I training becoming a lucrative industry with many companies offering training courses and instructors. However, many people and studies have raised the question as to whether diversity training actually has the desired impact which it sets out to achieve. 



Why is diversity training important?

In the tech industry and beyond, we have seen the huge positive impact that maintaining a diverse and inclusive work culture can have on a business. And this prioritisation of diversity & inclusion isn’t looking to slow down anytime soon. However, it can be very easy for a company to think they’re being inclusive without actually changing much. 


Diversity training is an effective tool to educate your employees on what diversity means and how to foster an inclusive environment in which everyone can thrive. It’s also a preventative measure to help to stop discrimination within a workplace, as people will be more mindful about how they behave and interact with one another. But no matter how much good intentions and commitment a company can show to their D&I strategy and training, it can still end up failing in its objectives.


What are the pitfalls of diversity training?

Here are four pitfalls often associated with diversity training.


1. Don’t make it mandatory

This might sound counter-productive, but sometimes when diversity training is set as its own module and is made compulsory, it can provoke people to feel resistant and defensive. Employees may feel that the training isn’t relevant to them as they’re not racist or sexist. Plus, when people are forced to sit and listen, they’re much less likely to take anything away from the session. Especially when everyone probably already has a lot on their plate, and mandatory training can be seen as an interruption and an irritant. This approach can also feel more like a tick-box exercise which again, isn’t what you want as a company. 


We know that diversity is much more than just gender or race, so it’s really beneficial for people to learn about what different types of minorities are and how they can be supported in the workplace. Instead of making a new training module simply called ‘Diversity training’, consider where it could slot into existing training material. For example, when learning about different ways to communicate internally or maybe in a team-building exercise. Also, by making it optional, people will want to be there and show up, so you’re more likely to have diversity champions emerge within your business who can help to relay the messages and tell people how important and useful the training is.


2. Avoid purely passive training sessions

Many training courses around sensitive subjects can easily end up feeling like a lecture rather than a learning exercise. The last thing people will respond to and engage with is someone standing and talking at them for an hour. Instead, consider integrating active learning segments into your sessions where employees are encouraged to share their experiences and talk through with each other. This approach will most likely lead to uncomfortable and personal conversations, but these are the things which employees are more likely to remember and take things away from. 


3. Don’t neglect your commitment to D&I

Many companies think simply adding an unconscious bias training module to their programme is enough to constitute a diversity and inclusion strategy. However, a successful strategy will need a lot of resources and work should it achieve the aims and objectives it sets out to. Set goals to ensure you’re on track with your diversity training progress – accountability is more likely to result in success. For the best chance of success, D&I and bias training shouldn’t be a flash-in-the-pan once a year occurrence. Instead, plan a whole calendar of workshops, webinars, talks and celebrations to help create a buzz about inclusion and contribute to your workplace culture. 


4. Consider hiring an expert to help with the training

Diversity training should be taken seriously and delivered effectively. The best approach, especially in larger companies, is to hire an expert to ensure that the training is kept professional and to the highest standard possible. Having an independent and impartial person running the sessions, employees are more likely to feel comfortable expressing themselves and sharing their experiences. As tempting as it could be to have someone from HR to run the sessions, you’re more likely to get good feedback and results.


When delivered effectively as part of a wider diversity and inclusion strategy, equality training can be extremely effective in creating an inclusive work culture. In turn, it can improve staff retention rates, employee satisfaction and increase profitability. So getting the training and your wider strategy is so important for every company.


Learn 10 ways employers can demonstrate commitment to diversity and inclusion.