In Defense of Diversity Training • Pope Consulting

In Defense of Diversity Training (Part 1)

This article is part 1 of a series titled “In Defense of Diversity Training” written by Patricia Pope. You can find Part 2 here for further reading.

Diversity training gets a bad rap from those who have had a bad experience, know someone who did or read an article that says this training is a waste of time and money. Some perceive it as having the ring of a forced march, with the added perk of some guilt, and a little bit of cultural shaming. This is my defense of Diversity Training and I hope it sheds light on some of the reasons why it’s been such a controversial topic over the years. My wish is that it will at least provide you with some of the questions you could ask to have a positive experience in your organization.

A recent TIME article citing diversity training as ineffective is an example of this kind of thinking. The perception of a research-based article is compelling, but it oversimplifies the research quoted, sprinkles in carefully chosen anecdotes, and treats all diversity training as being equal – which it most certainly is not.

When someone tells me their organization has done diversity training, I ask questions.  For some, it was a 1-hour session that defined diversity for their organization, shared the organization’s commitment to it, and perhaps their expectations of employees. That’s information sharing – not training. Many have said, “We did sexual harassment prevention and anti-discrimination training.” This too isn’t diversity training. It’s EEOC training.  

The TIME article cites a Harvard professor who combed through thousands of data points and concluded that companies that had done diversity training would have hired more women and people of color if they hadn’t had the training. Three specific things caused this: making the training mandatory, mentioning ‘the law,’ or having only managers attend versus offering to all employees.

We’ve been doing diversity and inclusion training since 1976 – and we don’t talk about laws (because we’re not doing EEO training).  Each organization determines if the training will be mandatory or not, depending on their cultural norms. If they typically require attendance at training courses they’ve decided to implement, then this is consistent with their culture. We don’t recommend having individual contributors in the same sessions with leaders/managers because they have different roles. The content should be similar to create a common awareness and language, but it should be delivered within the context of their different organizational responsibilities as leaders, managers or co-workers.

There are a number of variables that should be examined if someone is trying to evaluate on a very broad scale the real value of diversity training.

Diversity Training Variables

There are many different approaches used, including:  E-learning, blended, instructor-led, video-based, interactive theater, and interactive games.  Any of these approaches can be effective or ineffective depending on the content and how it’s delivered.  Other variables include:

  • The length of the training – clearly attending a 1-day session will be more impactful than one hour.
  • What are the learning objectives and desired outcomes?  
  • How stimulating is the content and how engaging is the facilitator?
  • Who is teaching (someone who actually has diversity training expertise or someone who teaches a course on a somewhat-related subject at the local college)?
  • The extent to which the facilitator has done his or her own work.
  • What is the underlying philosophy of the organization or individual who is delivering the training?
  • How is the organization going to measure the effectiveness and impact of the training beyond the evaluations at the end of it?
  • And most importantly, how is the organization going to reinforce the training so that the learning and motivation that participants have when they leave the training is sustained.  

Each of these bullet points are important.  Some represent questions that a company should be asking of the potential vendors and some of them are what vendors should be asking their potential clients.

In future blogs, I will go into more detail on each of them.

Diversity Training That Actually Works

Bottom Line: It’s unrealistic to expect that a single training program is going to result in any meaningful long-term change. Even if a company “sheep dips” every employee in the training, that’s still just checking a box.  When participants have a very positive experience in diversity training, they say, “This was great. What’s next?” If the organization isn’t prepared to answer that question, many employees conclude it was just another ‘flavor of the month.’

If you’d like to learn more about diversity and inclusion training that actually works with proven results, please get in touch with us here at Pope Consulting. We would love to speak with you and help your organization have a positive experience and achieve meaningful results.

This article is part 1 of a series titled “In Defense of Diversity Training” written by Patricia Pope. You can find Part 2 here for further reading.