What do job seekers want? Competitive pay, solid benefits, and flexibility—of course. But there’s another thing near the top of the list: diversity.
It’s so much more than a buzzword. Today, people are actively looking for a work environment full of co-workers from all different walks of life. Studies have found that 38 percent of those looking for a new position would turn down a job offer if a company lacked a diverse workforce and had no clear plans to improve this.
But building diversity in your business is so much more than hiring people from different backgrounds. That’s only the first step. You also need to make sure you have an inclusive environment where all of your team members feel heard, seen, and valued in their daily work.
That’s where diversity training comes in. Whether or not you have a formal program in place already (don’t panic if you don’t!), we’ll walk you through exactly what this type of training looks like and how you can use it to make sure diversity and inclusion are priorities for your business.
What Is Diversity and Inclusion Training?
Diversity, equity, and inclusion training (a.k.a. DEI training) helps team members understand and work with people who have different perspectives and backgrounds than them.
There are many different types of diversity training you could offer, but they all ultimately share the same goal: to create an equitable and inclusive workplace where every employee feels safe and supported.
Why is Diversity Training Important?
You may already know about the importance of diversity and promoting inclusive work. There are plenty of proven benefits, from improved retention and employee engagement, to significant boosts to your bottom line.
But why do you need specific and regular training on diversity and inclusion?
Knowing how to successfully interact with diverse groups of people is a learned skill. Much like other compliance training or professional development initiatives, it requires a commitment to education and practice. The field is constantly changing too. Best practices develop over time, so brushing up or learning new approaches is essential.
Benefits of Diversity Training
So, how exactly does diversity training help your team and your company as a whole? Here are some of the main ways:
1. Discover Unconscious Biases
Frequent diversity & inclusion training is an opportunity for people to continually reflect on their own unconscious biases (which are essentially stereotypes you might not even realize you believe) and how this may be showing up in interactions with co-workers.
It may feel uncomfortable to confront these implicit biases that we all hold but acknowledging that we all have some biases is the first step. Inclusion training allows people to identify these limiting beliefs and then challenge them. We can’t, after all, fix anything without first acknowledging the issue.
2. Find Solutions for Better Teamwork
When people become more aware of their mindsets and biases, they can take steps to change them. But you can’t expect your team to know how to show more inclusive behavior without a little help and guidance.
Diversity programs should be as much about practical solutions as they are about awareness. There are tools out there to help with problem solving issues team members face and apply what they’ve learned about inclusive work (don’t worry, we’ll go over some of those tools later).
Put simply, you can’t just tell team members what the problem is—you have to help them fix it.
3. Improve Your Company Culture
One of the biggest benefits of diversity training is that it can uncover problems in the company culture, particularly around hiring practices and employee development. Maybe you’ll realize that everybody involved in interviewing your job candidates has the same background, as just one example.
Whether it’s openly acknowledged or not, employees look to their managers to see what’s considered acceptable behavior at work. That’s why a top-down approach to diversity and inclusion training is so important. How your leaders (and you!) act when it comes to decision-making and day-to-day interactions sets the tone for the rest of the team.
By continually reflecting on how you interact with others through bias training, you’re able to catch any problems and focus on building a more inclusive culture.
What to Include in a Diversity Training Program
So, where do you start when it comes to implementing a diversity training program?
Diversity training is all about creating a friendly environment where people can exchange ideas and learn. It’s about making sure all workers feel comfortable voicing their opinions without fear of judgment, embarrassment, harassment, shame, or repercussions.
Start with How to Communicate...
While there are numerous scenarios, role-plays, or whiteboard activities that you could do, your diversity training should always start with exactly HOW to communicate and respect the opinions that come up. So make sure to begin with:
- Creating an Open Environment: In order for everybody to learn and benefit from your training, they need to feel safe and supported. Focus on fostering an environment that is as open as possible by allowing people to ask questions without judgment, immediately addressing negative behaviors, and modeling openness yourself.
- Diversity of Thought: Similarly, diversity training is all about…well, diversity. Make sure it’s clear that you welcome all opinions, thoughts, perspectives, and experiences—provided they’re shared in a respectful way.
...Then Move On to Other Topics
Once you’ve laid the groundwork for how you’re going to communicate with one another, it’s time to dig into some other topics. Here are some of the top DEI trainings you could choose for your business:
Common ground training is a great place to start when you’re putting together a new diversity program. It’s exactly what it sounds like: It helps team members find common ground between them—no matter how different they are.
Discussions among co-workers about their shared values and goals help team members find their similarities, which can make them feel more comfortable and united when exploring more sensitive topics like biases.
Every company should offer cultural sensitivity training, which helps people be more aware of the nuances that come with different backgrounds and experiences. It’s the perfect opportunity for those who don’t identify as part of underrepresented groups to understand their perspectives and learn how to better support them.
Having an organized conversation—one that’s focused on a specific topic and perhaps even moderated by a neutral person—can provide a platform and open environment for everyone to speak up.
This is particularly important for people who may feel that their voice isn’t heard or their opinions aren’t valid, as they’ll have designated opportunities to chime in with their thoughts.
The focus of anti-oppression training is moving from an ally to an active advocate. This is generally considered to be more advanced training and covers areas like how to identify sexism, racism, or homophobia at work and how you can bring this to the attention of leadership.
According to recent reports, only 12 percent of companies currently hold their management responsible for DEI initiatives. Having a training that’s focused specifically on your managers helps tackle bias from the top down. This is one of the best ways to identify and address diversity and inclusion issues at the core of your company.
We all have implicit and unconscious biases. And, whether you recognize it or not, they influence how we communicate and interact with other people. That’s why learning how to identify those biases is an important first step. Understanding what unconscious bias is and how it impacts us forms the base for many advanced diversity training tactics, so this type of training is a good place to start when onboarding new hires.
Much like the name suggests, this type of diversity training encourages your team to think about the world from different perspectives than their own. It’s a good opportunity to build trust among colleagues through understanding what life is like for them, along with providing tools for how people can advocate for the needs of others.
Where Can I Find Diversity Training Courses for My Team?
Now that you’re familiar with some topics that might speak to your team’s needs, how can you actually implement diversity training? Thankfully, there are courses and modules out there for just that. Here are some of the different options to consider:
Online Diversity Training
Providing your team with online content, through games or instructional videos, is best for high-level, basic employee training. Many of these programs can be purchased and reused again and again. Here are a few to check out (although there are plenty more than just this list):
- Diversity Works
- Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace
- Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging Solutions
In-Person Training Courses
For certain topics, having in-person instruction is more effective. You can approach these training sessions in various ways, from microlearning (regular five- to 10-minute group meetings and discussions) or a larger session, like a lecture or peer-to-peer round table dialogue. Here are a few to get you started:
- Crescendo’s DEI Live Workshops
- Leading Authorities, Inc. list of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Speakers
This involves hiring an outside DEI specialist to work with team members one-on-one, almost like a mentoring relationship. Since this can be an expensive approach, it’s best to use this strategically with key individuals in the business. Try searching for a “diversity and inclusion coach” or “diversity and inclusion expert” on LinkedIn and then filtering by your local area. You could also ask fellow small business owners if they’ve worked with anyone they recommend.
What Do Most Businesses Do for DEI Training?
In reality, most businesses do a blended or hybrid approach, offering some combination of the above in their diversity training programs. This mix helps you cater to all types of learners over a long period of time.
Let’s look at an example. Hybrid training might mean that new hires watch and participate in an online game with related quizzes and tests as part of their onboarding. From there, your company could host a DEI expert once a year for a full day of in-person training and guided activities.
You could also have an online bank of diversity training resources that team members can access on their own time for continued learning and development. For members of the senior leadership team, a coach may be assigned for dedicated mentoring support throughout the year.
Build a Diversity Training Program That’s Right for Your Business
Investing in employee training to create a more inclusive work environment is always a positive step. And it pays off in more than one way.
With a dedicated diversity and inclusion training program, you’re setting your employees up for success in both their work and personal lives. Your team will move forward with more empathy and understanding for their coworkers, and you’ll likely see even more success and profit coming your way.