How to Create a Diversity Training Program


    You might think that biases are a thing of the past, but while we’ve made improvements in the last century, there’s still a long way to go.

    In the workplace, people face prejudice for various reasons, from skin color to sexual orientation. Some employees or leaders may not even realize thier bias is caused by predisposed beliefs or notions lurking in their subconscious. Thankfully, these patterns and behavior can be corrected with the proper training.

    Katerina Bezrukova, co-author of a study on diversity training published in the Psychological Bulletin and an associate professor in the University of Buffalo’s School of Management, said that in the end, diversity training has the potential to make a positive impact in addressing biases and prejudice within organizations. The key, however, is ensuring that the training is done the right way.

    “At best, it can engage and retain women and people of color in the workplace, but at worst, it can backfire and reinforce stereotypes,” Bezrukova said in a statement.

    Diversity training is a great idea for any business, but it needs to be carried out responsibly. Here are some tips for getting the most out of your diversity training.

    According to Bezrukova’s 2016 study, diversity training has positive effects on employees’ knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of diverse groups, but while employees’ cultural knowledge remained the same or increased, over time, their attitudes regressed to what they were before the training occurred.

    “The attitudes this training attempts to change are generally strong, emotion-driven and tied to our personal identities, and we found little evidence that long-term effects to them are sustainable,” Bezrukova said. “However, when people are reminded of scenarios covered in training by their colleagues or even the media, they are able to retain or expand on the information they learned.”

    For diversity training to be as successful as possible, it needs to be delivered over time.

    “Like all training, bias and diversity training cannot be a once-a-year event that ticks the box for corporate compliance,” said Shane Green, author of “Culture Hacker” (Wiley, 2017). “Diversity awareness and focus must be a part of a company’s culture in all aspects … For training to be effective, the message must be reinforced regularly and managers must coach their employees when they see behaviors and attitudes that contradict an inclusive environment.”

    The diversity training study’s authors discovered that employees responded more favorably to diversity training when it used several methods of instruction, including lectures, discussions and exercises. In other words, employers should vary how the training is presented.

    Bezrukova said diversity programs have the greatest impact when they are delivered as part of a series of related initiatives, such as mentoring or networking groups for minority professionals.

    “When organizations demonstrate a commitment to diversity, employees are more motivated to learn about and understand these social issues and apply that in their daily interactions,” Bezrukova said.

    However, for the greatest impact, diversity training must be its own independent program. Integrate this training with sessions that discuss diversity and company culture, employee satisfaction, retention, career development, etc., said Jeremy Greenberg, founder of Avenue Group.

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