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How to develop a diversity training program

The benefits of diversity and inclusion in the workplace have been documented extensively in recent years. They include everything from competitive advantages to better employee retention to maximized productivity and engagement. These benefits, however, take an ongoing and concerted effort on the part of everyone at the organization to realize. In many, that effort manifests as a diversity training program.

This article will provide step-by-step instructions on developing a diversity training program in the workplace and explain its benefits.

Let’s get started!

What is a diversity training program?

A diversity training program is a process that aims to build a better understanding, cultural competency, and skills to help employees and managers better understand their own role and responsibilities in meeting the organization’s diversity and inclusion goals.

More specifically, diversity training teaches employees how to embrace differences between employees and demonstrates how those differences are a strength that can and should be harnessed for the good of the company and everyone within it. The goal? To create a culture of true inclusion at the organization that embraces and celebrates differences and sees it as a unique strength.

A diversity training program involves a combination of learning material, conversations, and real-world applications in practical terms. It aims for a much deeper level of organizational change than “sensitivity training” and aims to deeply embed these values into all employees’ daily lives.

Ideally, a diversity training program should:

  • Raise awareness of the concept of diversity and inclusion at the company
  • Define and promote a company culture that values diversity and inclusion
  • Respect and seek out different approaches and perspective that come from a diverse workforce
  • Attempt to build understanding between true understanding cooperation between employees
  • Actively strategize, measure, and evolve over time to meet company diversity and inclusion goals

Diversity training programs can be a lofty undertaking. But the benefits to companies far outweigh the effort and offer numerous long-term gains.

Why are diversity training programs needed in a company?

As mentioned, diversity and inclusion have many clear, tangible benefits for a company’s performance and its employees’ wellbeing.

In particular, companies with higher gender diversity have been shown to outperform competitors by 15%, while companies with higher ethnic diversity do the same by 35%.

The reason for that heightened performance is a simple one: diverse and inclusive workforces offer deeper and more varied perspectives and a pool of engaged employees who know how to work together effectively toward a common goal.

While revenue and competitive metrics are obviously great, diversity training programs also bring many other more abstract benefits to companies.

These include:

  • Unlocking more creativity and innovation by helping employees understand different perspectives and empowering them to work more effectively with all team members.
  • Fostering better and closer team collaboration by empowering team members to communicate more effectively and openly with one another.
  • Contributing to a compelling employer brand that makes you appealing to active and passive job seekers and improves the likelihood of landing top talent.
  • Ultimately reducing hiring costs, attrition, and lost knowledge by improving all employees’ daily lives and ensuring that everybody feels welcome and supported in their roles.

All of these benefits are great. But they may come with a concerted, long-term effort on the part of everyone at your organization. The rest of this article will explain how to make that happen.

Types of diversity training programs

Diversity training programs often involve one or multiple types of learning activities or material that you ask your employees to complete.

The most common types of diversity training include:

  • Coaching
  • Gamification
  • Micro-learning
  • Peer-to-peer learning
  • Hybrid approach

Let’s look at each in more detail.

Coaching

Diversity coaching involves assigning or hiring an outside coach to work with individual teams and employees. The coach is tasked with assessing each employee’s personality and motivations and offering suggestions on how the team can better interact with those around them.

The coaching technique is excellent if you’re looking to address an issue with a specific team or group of individuals. But, it can be difficult to scale to a full company, depending on your resources. Consider this approach for targeted diversity training or as a rolling program that everyone at your organization goes through overtime.

Gamification

Gamification is a technique that uses simulated activities, scenarios, or games to encourage people to collaborate toward a common goal. This idea mimics online games’ interactivity, where people are playing with other individuals from all over the world with little to no awareness of background or cultural heritage.

In these scenarios, employees are given tasks to complete as a team with clear instructions. They must then complete that task alongside a group of diverse individuals, receiving coaching and encouragement along the way.

Micro-learning

Micro-learning can be used as a complementary tool to other components of your diversity training program. This type of material aims to reduce time disruption often caused by long-form training sessions.

Break down the key points in your diversity training program into small, bite-sized lessons that take no longer than 5 to 10 minutes to complete. Ask employees to complete them at regular intervals over a defined period of time.

If delivered in tandem with long-form training programs, micro-learning is a great way to introduce definitions and concepts, set common goals, and provide a slow drip of information to keep these concepts top of mind.

Peer-to-peer learning

Peer-to-peer learning is a decentralized approach that encourages employees to share their own experiences, perspectives, and advice on diversity and inclusion.

In peer-to-peer learning, groups of employees are organized into a round table discussion, with one person acting as the moderator. That person will ask questions, prompt open dialogue, and offer advice and feedback as people share their stories.

Ultimately, the goal is to empower all employees in the room to share their perspectives, with the hope of creating a common understanding of the many differences, similarities, and challenges that may not have previously been known.

Hybrid approach

While each of the diversity training program types listed above is valuable in its own right, you’ll likely need to use a hybrid approach to cover all of your learning requirements.

Here’s how that might look in practice:

  • Coaching could be used alongside peer-to-peer learning as a first training session and entry into the concept of diversity training.
  • Gamification could then be used as a follow-up session to put the theoretical knowledge from the first session into practice.
  • Micro-learning could then be used at set intervals alongside these training sessions to allow employees to learn the material in their own time outside of formal meetings.

By using this hybrid approach, you’re able to ensure that the important concepts around diversity and inclusion are presented in a safe setting while also reminding and training people in their daily lives.

Steps to developing a diversity training program

Before launching into diversity and inclusion training, it’s critical that you go through some steps to prepare your program and define your goals.

Typically, the steps to developing a diversity training program will include the following.

1. Conducting an internal census

Before you can improve the diversity and inclusivity at your company, you need to know where you stand currently from a demographic perspective. As such, the first step in this process is to take an employee census.

Create a list of demographic characteristics that you’d like to survey for. This will likely include information about all major protected groups in your area of operation, including:

  • Race
  • Gender
  • Religious affiliation
  • Disability
  • Sexual orientation
  • Age
  • Nationality

You might also want to include:

  • Education level
  • Family status
  • Languages spoken

The goal here is to collect as much information as you can about how much representation you have from each of the above demographic groups.

Use existing company and employee data to fill out as much data as possible. For the rest, you might consider conducting an anonymous employee survey. Make sure you’re clear on why this survey is being conducted, and what the information will be used for.

You should also make sure that you clear this process with your legal team to ensure that you’re adhering to all local employment laws around protected groups and demographics.

2. Identifying areas of concern and creating objectives

Use your census data to find areas of under representation. Note where in the company that under representation is most common. That might be specific locations, departments, positions, and so on.

These gaps in representation will provide insights into potential diversity and inclusion challenges. Specifically, they might point to issues with:

  • Resistance to change
  • Lack of representation in leadership
  • Biased hiring practices
  • Lack of inclusivity leading to attrition

From this analysis, consider conducting confidential interviews with individuals across the organization to generate qualitative data and anecdotal insights to validate (or invalidate) your hypotheses.

If the data and anecdotal evidence points to issues associated with diversity and inclusivity, then this can be the area of focus for your training program.

3. Creating your diversity training program outline

Once you’ve identified your areas of focus, you can begin creating your diversity training program outline.

This training program outline should include targeted changes at all key points in your organization that may affect diversity and inclusivity, including:

  • Updating or changing your company policies and practices around diversity and inclusion
  • Evaluating and re-envisioning employee onboarding and training to include an emphasis on diversity and inclusion
  • Training for recruiters and HR team members on the practice of objective and diversity recruitment 
  • Training for specific teams and departments on the benefits and principles of diversity and inclusion

At this stage, you should also outline your key performance indicators that you will use to measure the success of your training program.

Potential KPIs to consider include:

  • Percentage change over time of employees in underrepresented demographics
  • Engagement or net promoter metrics related to diversity
  • Survey results around diversity and inclusion
  • Productivity metrics that indicate team alignment and output
  • Improved employee retention over time

Once this strategic groundwork is in place, you can move to filling out the body of your training program.

4. Creating or sourcing diversity training program content

This stage of the process includes both sourcing training material for diversity training, and creating content that explains where you stand as a company on the topic.

When sourcing training material, ensure that the content your use is recent, relevant, and applicable to your workforce and teams. Spend some time curating different learning modules to find the material that best aligns with your company values and goals.

Leverage e-learning, coaching, and gamification tools to source that content. This will allow you to deploy your training material at scale, and track adoption and engagement rates over time.

In tandem with sourcing content, you should also be thinking about what content you’re creating for existing and potential employees around diversity and inclusion. If this diversity training program marks a significant shift in philosophy at your organization, then your internal and external materials should reflect that.

In particular, you should:

  • Revamp your policy documents to include language around diversity and inclusion
  • Review and update your employer branding material to ensure that diversity and inclusion is clearly presented as a priority at your company
  • Ensure clear communication of strategy, goals, and outcomes to all internal employees
  • Incorporate diversity and inclusion content into your application, interviewing, and onboarding processes

Once your content foundation is in place, you can then confidently schedule training cadences and milestones with each team across your organization.

5. Measuring and sharing the results

As you roll out your new diversity training program, it’s critical that you keep track of how it is being received, and what the preliminary and long term results look like.

Remember those KPIs you outlined in Step 3? Use those to continuously monitor the results of your training program. This will give you tangible and objective data around how successful your program is in its existing form. Couple this with semi-regular surveys and casual conversations with leaders and employees to gather anecdotal insights.

It’s important to understand that no plan or program is going to be perfect on its first iteration. The purpose of tracking results in this manner is to allow you to objectively identify what’s working, and what isn’t, and pivot your strategy accordingly.

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