Diversity and inclusion are incredibly important topics for modern organizations of any size. Diversity training is a core part of ensuring that new employees feel welcome in the workplace—providing a positive work environment and making these employees feel more comfortable sharing their insights on the job.
A truly diverse workforce has access to a wide range of perspectives that grants businesses extra flexibility in the face of industry-disrupting changes.
However, not all diversity training programs succeed. In fact, many fail or have the opposite effect as what was intended. According to data cited in a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article:
“Five years after instituting required training for managers, companies saw no improvement in the proportion of white women, black men, and Hispanics in management, and the share of black women actually decreased by 9%, on average, while the ranks of Asian-American men and women shrank by 4% to 5%. 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, is diversity training a lost cause?
Far from it.
There are many companies that have successfully implemented diversity training to improve their workplace environments. By taking a look at these successful diversity training in the workplace examples, businesses can learn how to better implement their own training programs.
Not very long ago, NetSuite, an enterprise software company, launched a new mentoring initiative that has helped improve the diversity of its workforce. As noted in a Fast Company article, the program:
“Matches high-performing women at the company with mentors (regardless of gender) who work two levels above and in other departments… not only do those participants get one-on-one career coaching inside the company, but they’re also able to share their knowledge and experiences with their mentors, helping more senior workers stay current in the fast-changing technology space.”
While not a diversity program per se, this mentoring initiative promotes gender diversity in the management structure of NetSuite, while also improving the skills of existing high-level workers. Demand to participate in this initiative is “growing fast” according to the company, indicating success at earning buy-in from workers.
This benefit of mentoring dovetails nicely with findings noted in the previous Harvard Business Review article, which states that “Mentoring is another way to engage managers and chip away at their biases… mentors help give their charges the breaks they need to develop and advance. The mentors then come to believe that their protégés merit these opportunities.”
The lesson for diversity training here is that promoting a voluntary mentoring program can be great for increasing diversity and worker skills.
Google is one of the most successful companies in the USA at attracting younger and more diverse applicants. As noted in an HBR article about attracting the best college talent, HBR “polled 15,000 Millennials – 60 percent still in college and 40 percent recent graduates.” According to the survey, in which the respondents were asked to fill in the blank for the top 3 companies they wanted to work for, 40.28% responded they wanted to work for Google.
Essentially, the Internet search engine giant has the pick of the litter when it comes to recruiting young and diverse workers from the new generation.
There are a lot of things that Google does to achieve their diversity and inclusion rates, including setting up special outreach programs to colleges, maintaining strong social media profiles, mentoring interns, and providing diversity-focused hiring paths that make it easy for job seekers to apply.
Basically, Google has turned diversity training into a way of life for the company’s hiring process, which helps to ensure stronger diversity and inclusion moving forward.
Data cited by the HBR diversity article supports the effectiveness of college recruitment programs at improving diversity, stating that “five years after a company implements a college recruitment program targeting female employees, the share of white women, black women, Hispanic women, and Asian-American women in its management rises by about 10%, on average.”
3) The U.S. Army
For many years, the Army’s policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” when it came to the employment of LGBTQ soldiers, may have cast the organization’s approach to diversity in a negative light. However, there is a positive example of a form of “diversity training” in the organization’s history that showed success—one dating back to World War II, which was highlighted in the HBR diversity article.
At the start of America’s involvement in WWII, the Army was still a segregated organization. Units were either wholly one racial group or another, with only white soldiers being used for combat roles.
However, as the war progressed and casualties mounted, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was left understaffed, and “he asked for black volunteers for combat duty.” Because of this, black soldiers started to be deployed into the same companies as white ones, causing the two groups to finally interact as equals.
Harvard sociologist Samuel Stouffer, who was on leave at the War Department, made a survey of the troops regarding their racial attitudes. According to the HBR article, Stouffer found:
“Whites whose companies had been joined by black platoons showed dramatically lower racial animus and greater willingness to work alongside blacks than those whose companies remained segregated. Stouffer concluded that whites fighting alongside blacks came to see them as soldiers like themselves first and foremost. The key, for Stouffer, was that whites and blacks had to be working toward a common goal as equals—hundreds of years of close contact during and after slavery hadn’t dampened bias.”
In other words, what drove the success of this rather dramatic form of “diversity training” by complete immersion in an extreme situation (combat) was not the close proximity, but rather the common interests and goals shared between the groups.
So, a key means of making your own diversity training programs more successful may be to have diverse groups of people working together toward a common goal and depending on one another. This can erode negative attitudes and biases, while also promoting inclusion and cooperation.
These are just a few examples of training programs and other initiatives in various workplaces that helped to promote diversity for their respective organizations.
What these examples highlight is that a truly effective diversity program doesn’t just begin and end with training. Other efforts within the organization, such as using mentoring, making concerted efforts to increase the diversity of new recruits, and having different groups working together toward common goals all serve to enhance diversity training in the workplace.
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