Top 4 Problems with Diversity Training and How to Fix Them

Diversity is a buzzword that seems to be everywhere these days. But, do we really understand what it means in the workplace? Everyone says they want a diverse work environment, and companies understand diversity can provide numerous benefits. There is also the issue of lawsuits as more employees seek justice in discrimination suits that cost companies millions of dollars every year. However, even with the best of intentions, diversity training can sometimes miss the mark.

Diverse group of professionals celebrating success with raised fists.

What is Diversity?

One of the problems might be your understanding of the definition of diversity. Take a minute to think – how do you define a diverse workplace? Most people immediately think of coworkers who have different ethnic, gender, and cultural orientations, or those with physical or mental disabilities. What about other issues, such as generation gaps, language and communication issues, and accommodation of beliefs?

How Does Diversity Training Fit?

Perhaps the hardest part of diversity is not just knowing what diversity is or showing external acceptance, but also inwardly accepting and respecting others who are different in some way.

This makes diversity training exceptionally complex. Can you force people to change their beliefs? Will exposure to other ideas make a difference? Does a one-size-fits-all training approach hit the mark? As everyone watched the rise of the #MeToo movement and more empowered employees demanding their civil rights, companies realized diversity training was necessary on many different levels.

With all the good intentions and commitment from organizations, why does diversity training often fail in its objectives? Some of the problem is the approach. If diversity training feels like a prison sentence, it won’t work.

Top 4 Reasons Diversity Training Fails

1. Employees think they are not the problem.

Employees often feel they don’t need diversity training, because they are not racist, sexist or discriminatory. This is a problem called the Dunning-Kruger effect, where we believe we are better than we actually are at a task or problem, such as being empathetic or non-discriminatory.

2. It feels punitive.

Diversity training is usually mandatory, so it feels less like a learning opportunity and more like requirement everyone believes they don’t need, because they aren’t racist, sexist or discriminatory.

Making it compulsory can incite anger and resistance from employees. Some workers may even become more antagonistic toward other groups because of enforced diversity training.

3. Diversity training lacks focused objectives.

What is the organization’s true reason for the training? Is it to avoid lawsuits? Will it actually solve problems? If learning goals and objectives are not clear, many employees may view diversity training in a cynical manner and not take the content seriously.

4. It can foster a worse attitude toward diversity.

Some studies have shown diversity training that has a negative focus can be counterproductive. A 2001 study by Lori Robb and Dennis Doverspike found men who watched a video on sexual harassment had more negative attitudes toward women afterwards than before they watched the video.

Top 4 Diversity Training Solutions

What is the solution to fixing problems with your diversity training? There are a few ideas to incorporate diversity as a central part of your training program without singling it out as “diversity training.”

Here are four ideas:

1. Work diversity training into other company initiatives.

Instead of presenting diversity training as something separate, include the concepts into other training initiatives. These can include soft skills, team-building, leadership, customer service, and communication programs.

2. Incorporate diversity-based training activities into group meetings.

These can include perspective-taking, stereotype addressing, and creating diverse teams to accomplish a shared task or goal.

3. Make diversity prominent in your mission statement and onboarding process.

As part of the company culture, diversity will be viewed by employees as part of the company’s usual working procedures, not as one-time, compulsory training to endure.

4. Implement diverse hiring practices.

Perhaps the biggest lesson on how to make diversity work in your organization is to ensure the hiring process includes a wide range of candidates from many different backgrounds, and to make sure those employees work together on multiple teams. According to social psychologist Chris Martin, promoting a sense of common identity breaks down stereotypes faster than any training program can do.

Next Steps

Take a look at your current diversity initiatives. How have they worked? Have they achieved a higher level of acceptance among your employees of diverse coworkers? If you’re not sure, consider tweaking your diversity training to ensure you reach your diversity goals.

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On your whole 1st point: “Employees think they are not the problem.” Chances are they are right. Chances are you are projecting your baseless ideological nonsense on a “problem” that doesn’t exist.

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