Crafting a Diversity Training Plan that Promotes True Inclusion

Sarah Rickerd
Mar 02, 2021
3 min read

We all know that inclusion is the right thing to do, both ethically and financially. Not only are companies with diverse workforces more likely to innovate and increase profits, but a lack of inclusion affects employees’ mental health and commitment to the company. 

Yet achieving true inclusion is challenging. Too often, diversity training fails to have a long-term, meaningful impact. Sometimes, it even leads to increasing levels of discrimination and prejudice.

This doesn’t mean we should give up on diversity training plans. It means we have to rethink our approach to them.

What Does True Inclusion Look Like?

Diversity is an easy way to measure equality, but the real aim needs to be inclusion. In inclusive workplaces, female and minority staff members are not only hired but also retained, promoted, and equally paid, respected, and happy at work. They believe they can have long-term, fulfilling careers at the company.

Employees do not self-censor or “identity cover” themselves. They don’t feel the need to dress a certain way, chemically straighten their hair, smile more than their coworkers, or pepper their emails with “nice” comments to access opportunities and avoid criticism.

Inclusion also means that all staff members have equal access to life experiences. Women and men alike can be parents and successful at work – even though women are more likely to take on the brunt of the additional family and household workload

As well as equality, there is equity. Team members are not held back in the present by the lack of opportunities that were available to them in the past. Managers allocate tasks based on workers’ future potential, rather than just their previous achievements and connections. 

How to Craft a Diversity Training Plan That Delivers

Achieving true inclusion requires more than paying attention to diversity in new hires. It means implementing long-term training plans that will provoke genuine change in the company culture.

1. Getting Your Team on Board With Diversity Training

If you were thinking of introducing mandatory training days, think again. Compulsory diversity training is rarely successful, and neither is messaging about legal ramifications and disciplinary action. Attendees often interpret the forced attendance and warnings of punishment as accusations of being sexist or racist. 

In other words, getting your team on board with diversity training is crucial to its success. Focus on voluntary training events; these are far more effective since attendees self-identify as wanting to improve. Encourage your team to help shape the diversity training: welcome questions, suggestions, and feedback. 

Moreover, turn the spotlight onto common goals rather than negative consequences and rules. In doing so, you can make inclusion an aspiration rather than “red tape.”

2. Choosing Your Training Methods and Materials

It’s less work to carbon copy someone’s diversity training plan – but it’s also less useful. To improve both buy-in and impact, customize the content and delivery to your team. 

By selecting situations and issues that are relevant to the everyday experiences of your team, you’ll help them understand the importance of the training and increase the likelihood of producing real change. 

Make sure the training doesn’t just build awareness, but also coaches staff on actions and interventions. Whether you’re discussing hypothetical situations or doing role-play exercises, this can give your team members the tools needed to confidently challenge non-inclusive situations. In fact, one diversity training program found that after doing role-plays, 80% of attendees intervened in inappropriate situations at work.

Consider carefully who will design and deliver the training. You might benefit from inviting an outside expert who can draw on years of expertise, as well as approaching the topics with a more neutral perspective. Look for someone who will prioritize intersectionality.

Bear in mind that you won’t drive profound changes in a day, month, or perhaps even a year. Building inclusion takes a long-term approach, so make diversity training a regular occurrence.

3. Supporting Diversity Training with Organizational Changes

Unless diversity training is backed up by changes outside of the meeting room, it will never be more than a token action.

Consider setting up a voluntary mentorship program, optional in-work training, and facilitated networking events. These can be harder for women and minorities to access unaided, yet they can have a powerful impact. Mentorship, for example, has been found to dramatically improve management diversity. 

Whether it’s company-wide or solely between management figures, encourage transparency on promotions, pay raises, and project allocations, as well as reviews of all major decisions. This has been found to reduce bias, plus it gives decision-makers more support on a daily basis. 

Work to build a feedback-rich culture. This will help you discover potential issues earlier on when they are easier to resolve and have caused less damage. Have a plan for handling complaints; ideally, one that is structured enough to reduce the risk of biased decision-making but flexible enough to be adapted to a wide range of potentially unexpected situations. Consider how you’ll protect employees from potential retaliation.

Ensure women and minorities are involved in decision-making. When decisions are always made by people in the same demographic, it’s easy to overlook the ways they potentially exclude other people. Even seemingly mundane, everyday decisions can affect inclusivity, from scheduling important meetings during school hours so that parents can easily attend to adopting gender-neutral restrooms in the office. 

Building true inclusion requires far more than diversity training. However, well-designed, sensitively delivered training can not only give your team the tools needed to build an inclusive workplace but also inspire them to use them. And when supported by company-wide programs, transparency, and improved communication, it can lead to meaningful, lasting change.