The 9 Biggest Mistakes Tech Companies Make When Implementing Diversity Training in the Workplace

Sarah Rickerd
May 07, 2021
3 min read

We know the value of diversity. It boosts profits, innovation, and efficiency. Even more importantly, it enables workers to be comfortable, confident, and inspired at work. They feel like they belong, and as a result, they are more likely to stay.

Workplace diversity training has become a go-to way of tackling the tech industry’s low levels of diversity. However, many companies’ efforts are marred by poor implementation.

Diversity Training in the Workplace: More Misses Than Hits

There’s no denying that the tech industry is as a whole striving to improve diversity. It has spent billions on diversity training; Google alone invests nine-figure sums every year.

And yet diversity and inclusion in tech are stalling. While new recruits are increasingly diverse, the overall percentage of tech roles filled by women has been falling for decades. Women and minorities may join tech companies, but even more of them leave.

The problem isn’t that diversity training isn’t effective. When done well, it works. Retention rates rise, coworkers support a more inclusive workplace, and staff members feel supported and fulfilled. 

The real problem is that when diversity training is implemented poorly, it increases the likelihood of discrimination and prejudice. Here are some of the biggest mistakes tech companies are making:

Assuming There Isn’t a Problem

A lack of complaints is often taken as a sign that there aren’t any problems, but this isn’t always true. It often indicates that women and minorities feel unable to raise issues or don’t believe those issues will be appropriately addressed. 

In a healthy workplace, staff can confidently report issues and suggest ways to improve inclusion. So instead of assuming that no complaints means everything’s fine, ask yourself if you actually have a problem with your reporting processes.

Only Sporadically Providing Diversity Training

Long-term, meaningful change cannot be realized with the occasional diversity training session. Training needs to be consistently scheduled so that sessions build on each other to reinforce behavioral changes and attitudinal growth. It also needs to be provided for all staff members – not just the management team.

Making Workplace Diversity Training Mandatory 

Creating an inclusive workforce is not like introducing a new security protocol. For diversity training to be effective, it needs to get team members to want to improve. 

Compulsory training, meanwhile, tends to be met with anger and resistance. It can even increase animosity toward women and minority groups. In contrast, voluntary diversity training ensures that all session attendees are open to learning and improving. In this way, it creates a positive training environment and is more likely to produce real change.

Shaming and Blaming 

Negative messaging doesn’t work, whether it’s shaming attendees, stressing legal obligations, or outlining potential punishments. In fact, it’s more likely to spark anger than promote change.

Instead, outline the benefits of diversity, encourage empathy and perspective-taking, and empower attendees to take action by role-playing scenarios. In doing so, you’ll inspire your workforce to strive for greater inclusivity. 

Doing It All Internally

It can be hard to spot the issues within your own company. When there are instances of discrimination, asking a biased manager to deliver training will only make the situation worse. Instead, work with an external trainer to ensure objectivity and remove potential power imbalances from the training sessions. 

Not Customizing Diversity Training for Your Workplace

You might think that using someone else’s diversity training program will ensure that nothing is overlooked. Actually, it will guarantee that things are overlooked – and in particular, the things most relevant to your company. 

For diversity training to be effective, it must take into account the needs of your workforce, your organizational structure, and the situations workers are most likely to find themselves in. 

Expecting Minorities to Bear All the Weight

It’s important to listen to women and minorities when designing diversity training programs. However, expecting them to contribute or design the programs places an unfair burden on them, especially when it means asking them to relive traumatic experiences such as sexual harassment or racial trauma

When women and minorities are involved, they should not only be appropriately compensated for their extra work but also able to turn down the work and establish boundaries.

Moreover, it’s important that leadership takes accountability for improving diversity and inclusion – which means not making minorities responsible for reducing the discrimination they experience.

Ignoring Intersectionality 

Gender, race, ethnicity, citizenship, sexuality, ability, class: there are many ways in which workers might experience discrimination and bias. In addition to exploring these, diversity training needs to consider the way they interact. 

The stereotypes that white women, Black women, and Black men face vary significantly, while accessibility can look extremely different for an immigrant with English as a second language and a person with an invisible disability. Any workplace training that does not consider intersectionality will fail to be relevant for the team members most in need of inclusive initiatives.

Relying Solely on Diversity Training

Implementing diversity training in the workplace is an excellent first step to becoming more inclusive, but unless it’s supported by further initiatives and organizational changes, it will never be more than just lip service.

Mentorship and training programs, updated reporting processes, a code of ethics, flexible work hours, reviews of decision-making processes: these will help increase opportunities for women and minorities and reduce bias.

Improving diversity and inclusion in tech companies can be daunting. You’re working to correct cultural norms that have been embedded over the course of centuries. And poorly implemented diversity training will only stoke resentment and put extra pressure on women and minorities.

However, when designed and implemented well, diversity training can be powerful. It will help you ensure that your staff members are confident, happy, and fulfilled at work – no matter who they are.

For more information on how to implement effective diversity training in the workplace, read our guide to crafting a diversity training program that promotes true inclusion.