Inclusive hiring practices are the first step towards creating a diverse workplace. To foster an inclusive culture, every organization needs diversity training. The good news is that many organizations understand this need. What’s the bad news? Often, the approaches used are out of date and have limited value.
How can your company provide effective diversity training? A recent study by US and Australian researchers provides essential best-practice insights.
To make your training successful, you should bring people from different backgrounds together. Keep in mind that diversity training seeks to change deeply-rooted beliefs and behaviors. Often, longer training gives people more time to interact and shift perspectives. Your training should focus on both awareness-building and skill-building.
What types of diversity training methods should you consider? We’ll cover four that are gaining traction today.
#1: Focus on Perspective-Taking
No doubt, you’ve heard the phrase “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.” More than a cliche, that concept is the core of a practice called perspective-taking. Named a top training method in the Harvard Business Review (HBR), perspective-taking builds empathy.
In this style of training, you design exercises to help people see from a new point of view. For example, trainees can do writing tasks or role-plays to gain awareness of a marginalized group.
How effective is perspective-taking? HBR reported that the approach delivered strong results. Training participants took a survey before and after perspective-taking exercises. After training, they were far more pro-diversity. Follow-up over six months later found that trainees remained strong diversity supporters.
#2: Encourage Goal-Setting
We all know that setting challenging but attainable goals can motivate success. That’s true in life, business, and diversity training.
Goal-setting is another diversity training practice highlighted in HBR. How does it work? Exercises encourage employees to set actionable, personal goals.
For example, they can aim to speak up when they hear insensitive comments about minorities. In this type of scenario, employees will need to understand how to identify questionable comments. This may mean covering some terminology that can be derogatory to certain populations. Employees will also need coaching on how to respond. Trainers can suggest phrases that employees can use to address negative comments from others, and employees can practice using them. When equipped with these practical insights and tools, employees can succeed in meeting their established goals.
The power of goal setting lies in its ability to help people adopt new behaviors. According to HBR, goal-setting training inspires pro-diversity acts and attitudes for up to nine months.
#3: Tackle Stereotypes
Many people bring strong beliefs about diverse groups into the workplace. When these stereotypes go unchecked, the workplace climate can suffer.
An activity developed by MIT can foster candid discussions about stereotypes. Called “I am, I am not,” the exercise requires trainees to have a piece of paper and a pencil. Each person should fold the paper in half. Ask them to write down the phrase “I am” on one side. Next, they can write “I am not” on the other half of the paper. Tell them to write “but” between the two columns.
During the exercise, each person should write five sentences. In the “I am” column, trainees should identify a group to which they belong. Groups can include race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or others. In the “I am not” column, people can note how they don’t fit stereotypes associated with the groups they listed. A good way to explain this task is the statement: “I am Asian, but I am not good at math.”
Take time to discuss and debrief. Addressing stereotypes can be tense at first, but people will likely grow more open. With this type of exercise, you encourage people to start by looking at stereotypes associated with their own selves first.
Most people can understand why it feels uncomfortable to be part of a group by not fit a stereotype. This understanding can help broaden their perceptions and look at others through the same lens. Instead of applying a default stereotype indiscriminately to every member of a group, employees can start to shift their beliefs. Employees can begin to see people as individuals instead of assuming characteristics based on belonging to a group. Over time, this can foster a culture of increased openness and sensitivity.
#4: Show the Power of Diverse Teams
Collaborative activities can help bring people from different backgrounds together. Create diverse teams and give them a shared task or goal. You may want to have teams compete to motivate teamwork.
Traditional, in-person training always works well for group activities. But new technology offers new ways to bring people from different backgrounds together. Gamification is one technology showing significant potential for corporate learning, according to HR Technologist. With gamification, employees from various geographies can interact on a single platform.
A gamification approach can cost less than having people travel for diversity training. Also, game-based training is often more engaging and enjoyable for employees. Technology also lets you measure participation and perceptions to track diversity outcomes.
Use Diversity Training Methods that Work
Like anything, diversity training has its pros and cons. Done well, diversity training can increase workplace sensitivity and foster innovation. Unfortunately, old methods and unproven approaches can sometimes do more harm than good. Use the four practices outlined here to move your organization towards your diversity and inclusion goals.
Don’t assume that bringing employees together for days of training is the only way to go. With approaches like gamification, you can connect people who might not otherwise meet. Technology can extend the reach of your diversity training while keeping costs in check. Remember that evolving beliefs and behaviors takes time. A one-time course of a few hours may not make much difference. Instead, you may want to start with a longer course to cover fundamentals. And be sure to offer regular opportunities to reinforce learning over time.
Today’s organizations need to have a strong diversity training program. Focusing on perspective-building and goal-setting can cultivate pro-diversity attitudes. And addressing stereotypes and building diverse teams can create meaningful change.
Establishing a well-rounded diversity training program takes effort. But the rewards of creating a welcoming culture make the work worthwhile.
Connie Harrington is a content strategist and freelance author who loves writing about people-focused topics, including employee engagement, customer experience, education, and family and community. A solo parent mom to a teen, a tween, and a cat, Connie lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.