Does Diversity Training ‘work’?

The Boston Globe published an interesting article on Diversity training suggesting it simply doesn’t work: Although I don’t agree with all of the sentiments of the author, there is a grain of truth in there. Bad diversity training doesn’t work, and unfortunately poor quality diversity training does exist.  Diversity training which merely focuses on the provision of information or statistics around diversity, and legal imperatives for ‘compliance’ does not necessarily lead to behavioral change, and in many instances may contribute to and reinforce negative stereotyping.   Definitions of cultures which utilize racial profiling, as is commonly the case in the USA, or only focus on defining the characteristics or behaviors of minority group members can also amplify the perception of difference and contribute to further marginalization.

The good news is, good diversity training works and has a significant impact.  The key, however is ensuring diversity programs leverage our understanding of group behavior and change management.  They also need to develop key skills and strategies to enable and facilitate participation and engagement among people from diverse backgrounds.

A globalising, and increasingly diverse workplace

Our workplaces need to change to reflect the changes in our world.  Greater workplace diversity is resulting from globalisation, labour mobility, and an ageing population.  Increasing levels of awareness of the need for greater participation of women, particularly at Board and senior management levels are also contributing to the need to get diversity right.  In Australia, ASX 200 companies are being required to report against gender for the first time.  Yet, change can be challenging, it is easy and comfortable to retain the status quo.  Effective diversity training can make a significant contribution to more effective workplaces, provided it is delivered in the right manner.

What diversity training needs to include

Effective diversity programs go beyond the provision of data regarding this business case, instead they challenge participants to reflect upon their own position and dominant perspectives and develop greater empathy and understanding of the realities of others.  Such reflection can be confronting and challenging, and it is vital diversity programs are delivered by highly competent facilitators, with a focus on organisational change management rather than simply information based training.

At Beasley Intercultural, we deliver diversity training to firstly raise awareness – not only of ‘the other’ but of the self.  Everyone has a complex identity, and has groups to which they belong and ‘cultures’ where they are in their comfort zone.  In our diversity training we explore the ‘cultures’ by which people identify and define themselves, and the spoken and implicit rules in those cultures.  We enable people to experience and reflect upon the unspoken ‘norms’ of participation and engagement in a workplace and reflect upon and the barriers may exist to inclusion and participation.

At Beasley Intercultural, we ensure our diversity training develops skills – skills in the navigation and negotiation of difference, and the ability to find common ground.  These skills are vital, not only in the internal processes within today’s organizations, but in providing service to our clients and penetrating and delivering to new markets.  So often, the key requirements for effective engagement stem from the need for interpersonal and communication skills.   We also draw upon the latest theory of how the brain works, and how people respond to difference to work with clients to expand personal comfort zones and develop greater skills in self-management in stressful or changing workplace environments.

Structural barriers to participation and inclusion need to be addressed

We also acknowledge training is just one element of the process of enabling more effective diversity management within organizations.  While training is effective for developing skills and awareness, it cannot be expected to address structural barriers to participation.  Issues of recruitment, induction, performance rewards, hours, and structure of business participation are also vital.

Change needs to be strategically planned and managed

Simply telling people about diversity is not enough.  Being told something is good for you is rarely an incentive to change.  Just think of the number of times we are told we should eat healthier food and exercise more.  We know it makes sense, we know we would feel better, but it’s just easier to do things as we always do.  If we are serious about making our institutions more inclusive, we need to plan a strategy, set targets and measure performance against these targets.  We must also include quality diversity training as a catalyst for change.  If you are hoping your business is more effective in client service, we don’t simply deliver ‘client service awareness’ – we need to be more thorough.  It is the same with diversity management.  Lets get beyond mere ‘awareness’ of Diversity and get focused on achieving results.

Email Honey Muir at Beasley Intercultural honey@intercultural.com.au to request an email overview of the Beasley Intercultural one-day ‘Diversity Essentials’ training package.

 

 

photo: renjith krishnan

About Tamerlaine Beasley
Beasley Intercultural is a consulting and training company focused on enabling success in globally connected and culturally diverse workplaces.

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