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Lead Your Team Strategy

How to Create a Diversity Training Program

Create a diversity training program
Credit: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock

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.

Training should not be mandated for just lower-level workers. Every employee, regardless of their status in the company, can and should benefit from the sessions.

"All employees must participate, including senior executives," said Greenberg. "Workplace diversity is weakest at the leadership level … Leaders of all races, genders and sexual orientations must participate in any training program for their benefit and to make it clear that the organization is committed."

Even if you're the CEO of your business, you need to partake in the diversity training like everyone else. Not only are you showing others how serious you are about the issue, you are acknowledging that bias is not always a conscious problem, and everyone can better themselves with training.

"We are all biased in some way, so begin with that understanding and then have people work on what their biases are – some simple, while others more controversial," said Green. "The goal of diversity training is less about agreeing with another person's perspective or orientation but about accepting that we are all different, and those differences should not preclude us to minimize that person's abilities, opportunities or being a part of the team."

To provide quality, professional training for your workers, look to an expert to run the program.

"Assigning a team member, such as the HRO or CFO, to lead the session is tempting, but it is often not the best approach," said Greenberg. "Instead, bring on someone who is independent, has experience leading these specific sessions, serves as an authority figure based on expertise and doesn't bring any institutional 'baggage' because [they are] not an employee."

Additional reporting by Chad Brooks.

Sammi Caramela

Sammi Caramela has always loved words. When she isn't working as a Purch B2B staff writer, she's writing (and furiously editing) her first novel, reading a YA book with a third cup of coffee, or attending local pop-punk concerts. The only time Sammi doesn't play it safe is when she's writing. Reach her by email, or check out her blog at sammisays.org.