Why Your Organization Needs a Diversity Training Program in 2018

Big Think Edge | November 09, 2017

In our modern, increasingly globalized world, organizations both large and small are being tasked with managing ever more diverse workforces. As our understanding of diversity evolves, we see it in the races, cultures, morals, upbringings, ages, skill sets, languages, religions, and countless other identifying factors that every professional possesses.

A diverse workforce flourishes from the unique experiences and viewpoints of its employees. However, organizations have to work constantly on initiatives to ensure they are creating and maintaining a diverse and inclusive workplace. Today, many organizations still face serious problems with their D & I initiatives, and struggle to rectify them.

With 2017 drawing to a close, many organizations need to prepare for 2018, and a diversity training program should be at or near the top of their preparation list. Why? Here are a few reasons.

Because Your Customer Base is Changing

As the increasingly digital world opens doors to a global audience, every organization’s access to a diverse customer base increases. To make the biggest possible impact, organizations need to adapt to this truth. Diversity training can help make an organization more prepared to thrive in a globalized economy with a global customer base.

Jennifer Brown, CEO of Jennifer Brown Consulting and passionate advocate for healthier workplace cultures, noted in an article for Big Think that diversity can “help a company’s bottom-line.” The article further stated that:

“The companies with diversity training are essentially appealing to their customers—a growing population of minorities. In Britain alone, ethnic minorities will make up 30% of the population by 2050. Together, minority groups are a growing demographic. But they can’t simply be ‘lumped’ together, which is where diversity training comes in.”

Basically, by having an inclusive workplace that attracts employees with all kinds of backgrounds, businesses can likewise attract customers of all backgrounds. This can, in turn, result in increases for the business’ bottom line.

It Can Improve Employee Engagement and Retention

Despite today’s growing diversity and open mindedness, many business decisions are still the result of unconscious biases—often without the decision-maker even realizing it.

In another Big Think post, Jennifer Brown discusses how these unconscious biases come to be and how they can hold organizations back. She states that: “There’s not an intent that’s bad that’s behind unconscious bias. It is more that we see things through our lens. And really that’s all we know unless we proactively push against that.”

One example of an unconscious bias and the risk it poses to a business given in the article centered on gender: “By assuming that your female employees, for instance, would rather spend time with their children after work than attending a company dinner or accepting a travel assignment risks alienating your employees. Your talent will go elsewhere for the opportunities denied to them.”

In other words, these unconscious biases can make employees feel left out—both from social groups in the organization and from professional opportunities for growth and advancement. Over time, this could lead to the excluded employee becoming disillusioned and disengaged to the point that they leave and look for a job somewhere else where they won’t be excluded.

By using a diversity training program to help employees and leaders in the organization identify and confront unconscious biases, you can help prevent these biases from causing your best and brightest talents to feel excluded. An investment in these programs helps to boost employee engagement and retention—making for happier, more dedicated workers.

It Can Help Improve Your Organization’s Innovation

Innovation is often thought of as the product of rare genius—something that only a select, highly-intelligent few can reliably produce. However, this is not always the case. Rather than being a product of genius, innovation is often a combination of hard work, critical thought, and looking at problems from a new perspective.

Having a diverse and engaged workforce means having access to a team with a wide range of perspectives to tackle challenges. Each person brings their own experiences and way of thinking to the team. A potential benefit is that one person could point out something that may seem obvious to them but not to others. In this way, new innovations could be made that increase efficiency or simply make a key work task easier.

John Seely Brown, the Independent Co-Chairman of the Deloitte Center for the Edge, calls these quiet innovators “edge dwellers,” in a post for Big Think about learning cultures and innovation. According to Brown, if organizations can find edge dwellers, “pull them together, and give them voice,” then these “change agents” will be able to help companies “foster innovation within all levels of their organization, sharing radical ideas from people and companies who are making it happen today.”

Diversity training programs can play a vital role in not only helping identify the “edge dwellers” who can foment change, but also in helping them gain the confidence to voice their ideas so that they can make a positive impact.

Making Sure Diversity Training Works

Of course, it isn’t enough to simply have a diversity training program in and of itself. Many organizations have diversity training initiatives on the books that don’t make a real impact on diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

To make sure that your diversity training program is working, it’s important to:

  1. Treat Diversity Training as a Continuous Effort. No form of training should be a “one-and-done” effort where employees are put through a one-time seminar and left alone. To reinforce lessons and keep new hires up to date, training should be a continuous effort. Training resources should be constantly available to all who need them when they need them.
  2. Make Participation Voluntary. Forcing diversity and inclusion training, a.k.a. “sensitivity training” on employees has been shown to have the exact opposite effect of what was intended. Instead of increasing empathy, forced participation can actually create more animosity and resentment—as noted in a Big Think article titled Why Diversity Programs Fail, “Trainers tell us that people often respond to compulsory courses with anger and resistance—and many participants actually report more animosity toward other groups afterward.” So, encourage employees to take diversity training courses, but don’t force them to.
  3. Measure Success with Surveys and Other Assessment Tools. Conducting employee surveys and seeing what each employee has to say about their work environment plays a huge role in determining the success of a diversity training program. By tracking employee attitudes both before and after training, you can measure the impact of the lessons learned. These assessments should be repeated frequently (once each month or quarter) to track changes in attitudes over time. Exit surveys can also help identify workplace culture issues that may be costing your organization productive workers.

By crafting a consistent, voluntary program to enhance employee attitudes toward diversity and inclusion, and then closely monitoring said program’s impacts, it is possible to optimize your workplace culture to better prepare it for the future.

Of course, having access to convenient training resources that your employees can easily access on their own schedules can help a lot. Get started with convenient short-form videos featuring industry-leading experts in diversity and inclusion with Big Think Edge’s exclusive Diversity & Inclusion Course!

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