How to choose the right diversity training

17 July 2019 -

Business meetingA sizeable proportion of managers need diversity training, according to the latest Manager’s Voice survey. But bad courses won’t make a difference – how do you choose the right one?

Nearly two thirds of managers (61%) have either never received training on managing diversity and inclusion in the workplace or had received no training in the last 12 months, according to the CMI Manager’s Voice survey, conducted at the end of 2018. While 95% of managers said they felt confident in tackling discriminatory language, the lack of training for almost two thirds of them creates a large gap in managers’ knowledge when it comes to building diverse and inclusive workplaces.

For example, while three quarters (74%) of managers were aware of employees’ statutory right to request flexible working, only 26% knew that statutory right allows employees to request a change in hours, time and location of work.

Training is of course, only one element to diversity and inclusion – part of a broader action plan to tackle diversity in the workplace, driven by managers. But if managers aren’t getting the right training and skills, it goes without saying that their staff won’t be given the right guidance, Diversity and inclusion should be a company-wide initiative, championed by the CEO and senior leaders.

There is an education gap when it comes to managing diversity and inclusion in the workplace, but choosing the right course is also crucially important. A Harvard Business Review study by Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev found that many businesses experienced a decline in diversity following a period of diversity and inclusion training.

So what makes a diversity course effective? Here are some considerations:

Is it mandatory?

Line managers have a critical role to play in delivering diversity, and need to be equipped and empowered to build inclusive workplaces and call out bad practice. Training is important, but one of the risks of mandatory diversity training - such as unconscious bias training - is that it can trigger a backfire effect in employees: “As social scientists have found, people often rebel against rules to assert their autonomy,” state Dobbin and Kalev.

Ditch the command-and-control tactics and directly engage with staff, seeking their input on how to improve diversity and inclusion. A list of ‘dos and don’ts’ will not motivate people to change or call out issues when they spot them. Embed diversity training in wider management and leadership training. Or give them the option to take a diversity course, however, and people will be more engaged, and you’ll get better results.

Is it ‘one size fits all’?

People learn in different ways. They also, crucially, have their own biases and points of view. Some will be very empathetic, for example, while others will need to work harder. Some people sit higher on the ‘social dominance orientation’ scale, which means they – consciously or subconsciously – gravitate towards existing social hierarchies. Different groups will have their different hurdles to overcome, and the training involved needs to reflect that.

What’s the language of the course?

Dobbin and Kalev found that three quarters of diversity training courses used negative language in their course materials. For example, many will spend time highlighting legal cases in which a company has been reprimanded for not being inclusive. This emphasises the threats involved in diversity and inclusion over the positive impacts – hardly a source of motivation. A study by the Institute of Cognitive Sciences in France found that hearing a verb related to physical action, presented in a positive way, automatically increases the force with which people grip objects. If the word is presented in the negative form, it does not increase strength. So words do have a lot of power.

Do they put you in other people’s shoes?

A joint study by Indiana, Rice and George Mason Universities found that people who were asked to do exercises that got them to take the perspective of women or minority groups in the workplace – writing something from their point of view, for example, or discussing what challenges they might face – increased pro-diversity sentiment.

A good diversity and inclusion scheme is derived from emotional intelligence – if you can improve both yours and your team’s, you’re well on your way.

Want to put your training to good use? Learn how to develop a great diversity scheme here.

Image: Shutterstock

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