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Developing Effective Diversity Training for the 21st Century

Bullied No MoreGiven the recent attention given to bullying, and the increasing reports on workplace bullying, it may be time for companies to revisit workplace conflict that may be driven by the diversity of its workers. America’s workforce has changed. No longer do workers fit neatly into such categories as minority and non-minority, or Black and White. Today’s workers are older, bilingual, multi-cultural, heterosexual and LGBTI as well as workers with differing religious views working along those who profess none at all.

Work place differences are as diverse as the workers who make it up, and companies spend over 200 million dollars each year learning how to manage it.  However, research conducted over the past 30 years indicates that most workers, even those whom such training is designed to protect, neither like it nor believe that diversity training efforts are effective. In fact, many workers believe that diversity trainings often perpetuate stereotypes and biases rather than helping to dispel them.

Diversity and Inclusion training is among the most controversial forms of training in the workplace and is often characterized by training exercises that promotes blame and shame as a way of teaching sensitivity and understanding. Such training practices often result in workers feeling anger or embarrassment. These training are often characterized by workers storming out of meetings, or post- training confrontations among participants. In fact, some companies find themselves fending off employee complaints which allege the same harassment that the training was conducted to prevent.

However, diversity training does not have to be hurtful, in order to be helpful. Diversity training can be highly effective in building mutual respect among workers and creating a thriving workplace in which workers feel not only respected, but valued and included.  Workers who benefit from effective diversity training are more respectful toward each other and work more productively toward advancing the company’s business goals regardless of their differences.

Education, sensitivity and awareness are important components in diversity training as long as the  methods and tactics for increasing these components do not result in harm equal to or greater than what the training is designed to prevent. In other words, diversity related conflict can’t be solved at the same level of thinking that created it.

Diversity training that alienates staff, singles out groups, promotes or encourages stereotyping,  reflects the biasness of the trainer, and is forced on workers, is not only counterproductive, but may contribute to low employee morale and increased workplace conflict. Diversity training that result in workers’ discomfort, or fail to connect the need for employees to embrace both their differences and sameness with not only their career success, but the company’s bottom line generally fails and may have the unintended effect of actually contributing to harassment complaints and low productivity.

On the other hand, diversity training that is integrated in the company’s overall philosophy of developing the skills of its workforce, acknowledges each employee’s self worth, educates workers on the value of mutual respect and inclusion in helping the company live up to its mission and meet business goals, and communicates the company’s commitment to fairness, is more likely to be embraced by workers and most effective in changing personal behaviors toward others’ differences. As studies have shown, diversity training that is based on changing behaviors rather than attitudes is more like to be effective in helping workers to focus more on what each have in common than their differences.

Diversity will always be a major factor in any business, whether its employees or customers and managing it requires skill and commitment. Diversity training should be more than a tool to make a business “bullet proof” against internal or external allegations, but must be a part of the business’ culture and commitment to utilize the “whole worker” should be a part of every business’ planning and commitment to developing the skills of its workers.

The following are suggestions a business can follow when developing effective diversity training in the 21st Century:

  • Determine the purpose and business objective of the diversity training.
  • Ensure that the training has the “buy-in” of top managers.
  • Assess the skill level and experience of the trainer and make sure that the trainer’s content and training methods align with the company’s culture and values.
  • Communicate with employees as to training schedule and purpose and give staff an opportunity to provide input in the training.
  • Let employees see the company’s commitment to the value of diversity as reflected in the company’s hiring, mentoring and promotion decisions.

LaVon Stennis-Williams is the founder of LSW Strategies, LLC.  She is a highly effective and proven strategic planner who has used her skills and talents to launch three successful businesses which includes a general practice law firm, mediation and risk management firm, and a personal and business development consulting company.

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