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Diversity and inclusion training: How to apply it in the workplace

Google search: ‘diversity and inclusion training’. While trying to abolish any sign of discrimination in our society, it’s a logical step for organizations to at least implement a D&I training program. From kindergarten to workplaces, we should all (re)learn what happens in our streets and to fellow citizens who are part of minority or majority communities. Staying informed and alert is a popular way to dealing with inequality, while learning and understanding other cultures can mitigate fear and prejudice.

Zina Panagopoulou
Zina Panagopoulou

Zina applies her BA in Philosophy, Pedagogy and Psychology to her interest in DEI in the workplace and candidate experience.

diversity and inclusion training

When you craft a D&I training program, you need to carefully design and apply it to gain its maximum benefits. It also needs to have clear goals and measurable practices, so as to monitor its effectiveness.

In this blog post, you can find the skeleton of a diversity and inclusion training program that you can use with adjustments within your company.

And to sort things out, we gathered practices you can execute in three different levels:

  1. Personal level
  2. Team level
  3. Company-wide level

Bonus fact: Did you know that employee turnover is lower in diverse environments?

1. Make diversity and inclusion training personal

First and foremost, to be inclusive, each of us has to understand in depth what diversity means, both cognitively – i.e. what it is – and emotionally – i.e. how does a person feel when discriminated against. Once this is clear, employees could kick off their journey of self-reflection.

Let the lesson begin

Start diversity and inclusion training by setting up an educational course for employees. This can be either a pre-designed course or even some slides put together in a video.

Friendly reminder: No one likes to be forced to do anything they don’t want to do or they’re not comfortable doing. Be mindful of that. Try to use a friendly tone, simple and clear language and most importantly, make this training optional.

For this course, you can set goals and choose strategies that work for you, aiming to develop a holistic approach to D&I. You can use multiple media to address the matter and even prepare a questionnaire for a quick comprehension check afterwards.

Cognitive goals:

Emotional goals:

  • Develop empathy: How discriminative actions affect people?
  • Share stories through videos: Social experiments, TEDx talks.
  • Initiate self-reflection: Ask optional questions and collect data anonymously. Questions could be, for example:
    • Have you ever witnessed an incident where discrimination or prejudice took place? Explain.
    • Have you ever been victimized or felt like a victim of discrimination? Explain.
    • Have you ever wronged someone – or felt like you did – due to unconscious biases? Elaborate.

It is also important to clarify in the invitation email that diversity and inclusion training is not an evaluation and it is not going to be used against any employee in a harmful way. Don’t forget to reassure your colleagues that all data collected and shared will be anonymous during the whole process.

In short: this is a safe space designed for educational purposes, and nothing beyond that.

Be inclusive

After an employee completes the first educational part, express your availability and interest in a personal open conversation with anyone who is willing and interested. Keeping your door wide open to everyone – whether they have completed the training or not – , is, in fact, an inclusive practice in itself.

When an employee enters your space, you should immediately grab the only and most powerful weapon needed: The ability to listen. Be it feedback, thoughts or even a personal experience, remember that everyone deserves to be heard and you should not only give this opportunity to your peers, but also encourage them to speak up – again, making sure they understand they’re speaking in a safe space.

You can also keep in mind the following questions to warm up the conversation:

  • How was your experience of the course?
  • What did you like the most/least?
  • Do you have any thoughts or feelings to share?

And although it’s good to be prepared and have a plan for your conversation, it’s not a panacea. Open conversations are far different from interviews or work meetings – although it’s good to have a set of questions ready in a pinch to keep the conversation going, take care not to control the interaction.

Just grab a cup of coffee with your coworker and listen.

2. Work with teams

Once you have completed the first level of diversity and inclusion training, you can then proceed to group learning practices; During this stage, the main focus is on increasing awareness and empathy with interactive games or exercises, and discussions.

Get-ready tips:

  • Set SMART goals and metrics to build an evaluation form to fill out after each session (e.g. # of participants who shared personal story, # of participants who did not talk).
  • If possible, build groups of 5-6 people from these forms, preferably with diverse backgrounds (gender, race, role seniority, etc.).
  • Find a quiet place where you can all form a circle with your chairs.
  • Select 1-2 quick icebreaker games to loosen up any potential tension and build an environment of trust.

Note: In these practices you can start by moderating the group as the facilitator of the exercise – but as people start to loosen up and participate further, you can gradually give the controls to other people, who have already experienced and are able to lead the way.

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Set the scene:
  • Arrange chairs in a circle around a box and encourage everyone to take a seat.
  • Explain that each team member will have to draw a random card from this box that they should read only when their turn is up.
  • Ask for a volunteer to read the index of the card.

On each card is an anecdote about an incident in which discrimination occurred. In other words, it’s a story.

A quick side note: Storytelling is one of the most powerful techniques in adult learning and, in this case, the perfect tool to help identify discriminatory behaviors and craft inclusive consciousness.

Did you know? Three in five of us have at least witnessed or experienced discrimination firsthand.

Write down – in your own words, changing names and any other identifiable factors – some of the stories you collected anonymously via questionnaire in the previous phase. You can also add incognito stories of friends, family, or famous people who have shared their own stories, keeping in mind they need to remain unidentifiable. You can even share your own personal experience.

After each member reads the story out loud, ask this person, and afterwards the whole group, to express an emotion or thought in response to the story. Ask them: – “How do you feel about this story? Why?” In some cases, you can let a conversation flow freely from there. There may be some interesting revelations.

When those who want to share their card with others have done so, thank everybody for joining in the session and express your availability and willingness to hear and discuss more if someone wishes.

When you’re left alone, fill out the evaluation form you have prepared.

Note: Try to choose stories showing different types of discrimination (gender, age, background, etc.) in different environment (workplace, university etc.). Be careful not to expose any employee, employer or institution. What we are interested in is understanding what diversity is and what it looks like in real life, so as to promote inclusion.

3. Build an open culture

Even though companies can benefit from diversity and inclusion training programs, it is essential to understand that training alone is not enough. Workplace diversity requires an open culture which not only operates under the guidelines of EEO, but also includes daily practices and activities oriented indirectly towards inclusion.

Let’s take a look at some of these.

Time to play

Who said playing is only for children?

Gamified activities boost employee performance, encourage belonging, and when it comes to training, increase motivation levels.

What you can do is find or make some quizzes with simple online tools and spread the fun across random generated teams throughout your company. You can also adapt those quizzes to your specific needs and make them either for:

  • Fun (e.g. trivia quiz game)
  • Training (e.g. product-related)
  • Educational (e.g. D&I)

Blind coffee date

What more brings people close together than sharing a cup of coffee? When it comes to larger corporate environments, you can arrange so as every employee gets the chance to socialize with everyone within the company. And when we say everyone, we mean everyone – even the CEO.

Online tools that integrate with Slack offer the opportunity to randomly pair people for blind coffee dates. This practice facilitates employee bonding, builds new working relationships, provides a basis for exchanging ideas, and encourages more interaction between colleagues of different backgrounds.

Let ’em talk

Each year on May 21, actively recognize UN’s World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development:

  • Let minority groups or even individuals organize lectures and share their stories or experiences with the rest of the world (or even your company)
  • Invite Diversity & inclusion experts and psychologists to provide support and guidelines for recognizing discrimination and suggesting what to do in these situations
  • Organize open conversations based on employees’ preferences gathered from prior polls

Work can also be school

An inclusive workplace isn’t just about numbers ‘proving’ the diversity among employees. It’s a mindset, or better yet, an active realization and appreciation that each and every one of us is unique. And although we reminisce about our years as students, that does not mean that we have stopped learning and evolving.

In fact, workplaces too are part of our education and it is time to focus on investing more on developing our humanitarian aspect and building a more diverse environment. It may be that you and your colleagues will benefit as well – and your employer, too.

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