Despite the increasing focus on making businesses of all sizes more inclusive and diverse, many still struggle to overcome the biases that keep them from entering or thriving in the workplace. One way to create more welcoming companies that respect differences and embrace people from underrepresented groups is to implement diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) training programs.
Diversity, equity and inclusion training programs teach employees at all levels to uncover, identify and correct for biases or prejudices that have kept people from underrepresented groups from being hired or promoted in the workplace. DE&I programs provide the tools to work toward creating diverse and inclusive companies where people from all groups — especially marginalized people — are represented (diversity), treated fairly and given equal opportunities (equity), and feel welcome and supported (inclusion).
DE&I training has the potential to positively address biases and prejudice within organizations, according to Katerina Bezrukova, an associate professor at the University at Buffalo’s School of Management and co-author of a study that examined 40 years of research on diversity training. DE&I programs can include various approaches. However, the goal is always increasing empathy and understanding across the board to ensure everyone feels valued, respected, and like an integral part of the team.
Stress inclusive communication in your DE&I training program. Ensure your team understands the importance of listening and speaking with inclusivity, acknowledging unconscious bias, and understanding microaggressions.
Successful DE&I training programs require careful planning to ensure they make a meaningful difference, boost company morale, and are worth the time and money invested.
“A well-designed [DE&I] training program can elevate employee morale, boost customer satisfaction, and drive bottom-line business success,” explained Pamela Pujo, the diversity, equity and inclusion manager at CBRE. Additionally, Pujo noted that DE&I training programs “will encourage increased collaboration, enhance interpersonal skills, and empower underrepresented groups to feel more valued and respected in the workplace.”
However, to arrive at these successful outcomes, you must carry out DE&I training responsibly.
“At best, [DE&I training programs] can engage and retain women and people of color in the workplace, but at worst, [they] can backfire and reinforce stereotypes,” Bezrukova warned.
Pujo concurred, noting that these programs can have unintended negative outcomes. “Sometimes, [DE&I] training reinforces differences between people rather than providing the needed insight and instruction on how to work effectively together,” Pujo noted.
To avoid DE&I training pitfalls and ensure success, consider the following tips for getting the most out of your training program.
Establishing a DE&I training program for your organization starts with developing a clear, detailed definition of what the program should entail. A comprehensive program provides concrete ways to engage in respectful and positive interactions in the workplace. At the same time, it should reduce discrimination and prejudice based on factors like gender, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, age, religion, physical and mental ability, and socioeconomic status.
Here are some key elements to understand about DE&I training.
In Bezrukova’s study, diversity training positively affected employees’ knowledge, attitudes and behaviors toward diverse groups. However, over time, participants regressed to pretraining attitudes.
“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 noted. “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.”
To extend and maintain DE&I training:
“The most successful companies don’t view workshops as a one-and-done event but an opportunity to reinforce and build on a larger cultural commitment,” said Jonathan Coffin, associate vice president for university communications at Indiana University and former co-chair of the diversity and inclusion practice group at Vox Global. “The program matters, but the message and the messenger matter, too.”
DE&I training should be tailor-made for the organization conducting it. “Corporate diversity training programs must be based on a foundational understanding of the unique diversity and inclusion objectives and challenges of each organization,” Latham advised.
To tailor DE&I training to your company, consider the following best practices:
Once you’ve done your research, analyzed the data, and developed objectives and goals, you can design a program for your company’s unique needs, history and culture.
Bezrukova and her colleagues discovered that employees responded more favorably to DE&I training when it used several instruction methods, including lectures, discussions and exercises.
Here are some ways employers can plan an integrated approach to DE&I training:
Training should be mandatory for all employees, regardless of their status in the company — not just lower-level workers.
“All employees must participate, including senior executives,” Greenberg advised. “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, you must participate in DE&I training like everyone else. You’ll show your team how serious you are about the issue while acknowledging that 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 [are] more controversial,” Green said. “The goal of diversity training is less about agreeing with another person’s perspective or orientation [than] 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.”
A culture of inclusion starts at the top. Owners and managers must commit to building a diverse culture and hiring professionals open to working with people of various nationalities, skin colors, genders and sexual orientations.
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,” Greenberg shared. “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.”
DE&I training aims to bring about real, meaningful change to your organization. Tracking the progress your business makes on meeting specific, defined DE&I key performance indicators (KPIs) is essential.
Every company faces unique challenges, and not every training program will address all issues. You must track your training program’s effect over time and readjust your efforts based on what is working and what isn’t.
Educating your employees and executives on DE&I — and giving them the tools to foster a fair, diverse, and inclusive workplace — is the right thing to do. But beyond that, there are many reasons why implementing a DE&I training program is essential for your business, including the following:
Efforts to increase workplace diversity, equity and inclusion are increasingly important to businesses. According to the latest Diversity and Inclusion World Market Report by StrategyR, spending on DE&I reached $9.4 billion in 2022 and is expected to grow to $24.3 billion by 2030.
With all that money being spent, understanding the current state of DE&I in the workplace is essential. Here are some findings from the latest studies that your business should consider.
The research is clear. Having a diverse workforce at all levels leads to better results.
Diversity also makes businesses more attractive to potential employees.
The amount of money organizations spend on DE&I initiatives might make them feel they’re doing everything possible to tackle the problem — but employees may have a different perception.
The PwC 2022 Global Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Survey found that 54 percent of business leaders said diversity is a priority for their organization. However, only 39 percent of employees agreed that this was the case. Even worse, more than a quarter of respondents said diversity is a barrier to career growth at their company.
The StrategyR report found similar results, noting that over 65 percent of employees say their managers don’t work toward creating inclusive workplaces. While businesses are clearly trying, research demonstrates that employers still have a long way to go.
A comprehensive 2022 review of studies on diversity training by Patricia G. Devine and Tory L. Ash found no clear conclusion about the effectiveness of DE&I training programs. The authors cited a lack of research into the efficacy of these programs and said DE&I results must be based on more than how employees feel about them. Instead, these efforts must set specific, measurable goals that companies invest time and money to track.
So far, that doesn’t seem to be the case. While the PwC survey found that 72 percent of organizations in North America listed DE&I as a stated value, only 28 percent of leaders are tasked with specific DE&I goals, and just 22 percent have their progress on meeting DE&I goals measured.
While the efficacy of training programs might not be clear, there is strong evidence that implementing an integrated approach to DE&I has real benefits.
Ivuoma Onyeador, an assistant professor at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and the co-author of a review of diversity training programs, says training programs can be successful when they’re part of a company’s mission and goals. In fact, the review noted that combining training programs with mentorships and diversity oversight structures increased managerial diversity by 40 percent.
While DE&I training has been touted as a strong solution to many race- and diversity-related workplace issues, there is some speculation as to whether diversity training actually works as intended.
Here are some reasons a diversity training program might fail:
To investigate the effectiveness of diversity training, writers at the Harvard Business Review conducted their own study, creating a diversity training program and testing the results. Here are some of their findings:
The study results suggest that there is no one-size-fits-all diversity training and that making the program work takes a lot of careful thought and design. For best results, follow the advice below:
You may want to invest in an in-house person to deliver your DE&I program or become a diversity trainer yourself. Anyone conducting DE&I training must have the knowledge, skill set, passion and comfort level to deal with the often-complicated dynamics that arise with these issues.
Here’s what a diversity trainer should do:
However, sometimes, becoming a diversity trainer requires harder-to-measure skills.
“To be a good diversity trainer, the person must have both a broad and deep knowledge of the diversity issues facing corporations, must have a commitment to address the elephants in the room, and must be a good communicator,” Latham shared. “In addition, an effective diversity trainer must provide practical advice that the trainees can use to enhance diversity and inclusion in their own workplace.”
Many training programs can teach employees and managers about diversity, excellent diverse hiring and promoting practices, and how to build a truly inclusive team where people are treated fairly.
Some popular diversity training programs include the following:
HRDQ offers interactive training programs on various DE&I topics, including cultural competency, implicit bias and generational communication. Most courses are part of a subscription that includes action plans and updated materials. Annual subscriptions start at $599.
HRDQ also offers a program called Diversity Works, which consists of a three-hour workshop and an interactive game. The program can host up to 25 participants and is designed to foster meaningful communication between employees by helping them understand themselves and others.
The cost of Diversity Works starts at $499.99, which is about $20 per employee if 25 employees participate. Training refills (i.e., replenished workshop and activity materials) are available for $199.99.
Compliance Training Group offers employee training on several topics, including sexual harassment, violence and workplace ethics. The company also offers two DE&I online training courses designed specifically for employees and managers. These programs, around 60 to 90 minutes in length, can be accessed and completed 24 hours a day and are budget-friendly at $29.99 per employee.
eCornell is an online learning platform from Cornell University offering a workplace diversity, equity and inclusion program for business owners, managers, and HR professionals. The program consists of online instructor-led courses that take about two months to complete. You will receive a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Certificate from Cornell ILR School upon completion. The course can be purchased for a one-time fee of $3,699 or four monthly payments of $975.
AMA offers a course on Leading in a Diverse, Equitable and Inclusive Culture. The course is designed for business leaders and managers and has two sessions that can be taken online or at an in-person class. The course educates on DE&I issues and helps leaders develop a vision and plan for a more diverse and inclusive workplace. The cost for non-AMA members is $2,595, but members receive a discount. The organization also offers a longer DE&I Certificate Program priced at $3,295 for non-AMA members.
If your small business doesn’t have the resources to pay for an expensive DE&I course, but you want to find a way to educate your managers and employees, Coursera’s Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace course is a great place to start. The online course takes about 10 hours, and people can work at their own pace. Best of all, it’s completely free.
A DE&I training program isn’t a quick fix. It must be part of a larger drive to make diversity, equity and inclusion a core value and priority for your business. To be successful, DE&I training programs must be well-planned, tailored to the specific needs of your company, and tracked and measured against concrete goals.
But training programs are only one piece of the puzzle. DE&I training should be implemented alongside other programs like peer mentorships, recruitment programs and diversity task forces that aim to make diversity, equity and inclusion a key tenet of your company’s mission.
Paula Fernandes and Kiely Kuligowski contributed to this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.