Diversity and inclusion training in the workplace: Is it effective?


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Many companies today have diversity and inclusion curricula for employees, but these programs are not all equally effective. The results you want to achieve are determined by multiple factors, which we discuss below. Read on to learn more about cultural diversity and inclusion training in the workplace and how you can make training for your employees more successful and longer-lasting.


What is cultural diversity and inclusion training in the workplace?


Some companies give diversity training short shrift, whether on purpose or inadvertently. They believe simply having no obvious discrimination allowed or paying everyone equally regardless of gender or protected class is sufficient. However, real diversity and inclusion goes much further and involves education, evaluation, and repetition.


Diversity and inclusion training (education) addresses issues common to all workplaces, and it can also speak to concerns particular to your company. Key components include:


  • Making sure everyone has equal access to the things they need to perform their jobs well, such as resources or mentoring

  • Acknowledging and honouring cultural differences

  • Incorporating inclusive practices into all aspects of business practice

  • Seeking out and understanding any biases or lack of inclusivity in the company and working to change them (evaluation, which may need to be ongoing)

  • Developing an inclusive company culture that reflects diversity of experience and opinion and respects different values.


The importance of diversity training cannot be overestimated. First of all, some groups that are considered minorities now will soon make up a majority of many populations. For example, about three-quarters of the American workforce in three years will be millennials, 40 percent of whom identify as non-white. In Canada, one-third of the population will be a visible minority by 2031, and it is expected that over the next few decades, whites will become a minority in Toronto and Vancouver.


Similarly, the percentage of people who identify as LGBT has increased. It is important for recruitment, worker satisfaction, and employee retention that these groups feel represented and welcome in the workplace. This is akin to what women experienced in decades past when joining the workforce in large numbers, what some female workers still experience in largely male industries, and what Black women experience in most corporate environments.


Additionally, diversity improves productivity and collaboration, which in turn increases revenue. This makes sense when you think about it. Not only are employees happier, letting them focus on their work, but companies with better diversity and inclusiveness are often more appealing to customers, consultants, and clients, especially if you do business abroad.


What are the different types of diversity training in the workplace?


Diversity training methods may differ depending on your company’s unique aspects and the learning styles of your employees. You may want to mix several methods so every learning style is covered, such as traditional classroom presentations, videos, webinars, workbooks, group discussion, quizzes, games, etc.


The topics you include should cover at least the following:


  1. How to go from diversity (having a lot of employees from different cultures) to inclusion (making sure everyone is welcome and has a seat at the table)

  2. Uncovering unconscious biases — what preconceived ideas do people carry about other cultures (this is natural), and how are they wrong?

  3. How to recognize and eliminate microaggressions that might get overlooked but still detract from true inclusivity

  4. Building allyship that stresses collective responsibility and teamwork

  5. How to intervene as a bystander if an employee sees behaviour that is not consistent with the company’s diversity and inclusiveness mission


Diversity training is best when it’s customized to the individual workplace or units within a larger company. Some cultural diversity training examples and results might be:


  • Teaching employees how not to talk over traditionally marginalized people in the workplace, like women or minorities

  • Learning how not to make assumptions about a coworker based on their appearance, dress, mannerisms, and the like

  • Allowing employees to use whichever pronouns they prefer, yet also not mandating their use

  • Creating spaces in the workplace for diverse employee needs, such as Muslims who wish to pray or breastfeeding moms

  • Discussing how to be culturally sensitive when doing business with coworkers in a foreign branch

  • Not always making “urban” projects the responsibility of Black employees or assigning “environmental” initiatives to Indigenous people, as if they are the only workers who should take on these tasks


What does diversity in practice mean?


To return to our original question, diversity training effectiveness only comes about when a business puts what they learn into practice every day. It’s not helpful to spend one day doing cultural diversity and inclusiveness training, only to check a box and forget it on the other 364 days of the year. It’s like playing a sport, painting, or performing with a musical instrument — you have to do it over and over again (repetition) to get better at it.


Photo by Kazuo ota on Unsplash

How can you practice diversity and inclusiveness on a daily level?


  • Develop and execute hiring practices that actively seek out diverse candidates.

  • Promote from a diverse pool within the company.

  • Conduct frequent evaluations to see how training and diversity missions are holding up.

  • Offer ongoing or periodic training (versus one day of the year).

  • Train in-house staff to provide continued education.

  • Have leadership demonstrate the values they want employees to practice.

  • Include diversity and inclusion training as part of new employee onboarding.

  • Ensure support is there for employees who report incidents of discrimination or violations of company policies and also for bystanders who speak up when they see something wrong.

  • Make social events open to all (no “boys’ club” events, for instance) and in a variety of settings that appeal to different belief systems (some folks don't drink alcohol).


If you’re not sure where to start with diversity and inclusion training, or if your business is struggling to have the conversation about biases that should be overcome, Tough Convos is here to help. We offer workplace training, discussion facilitation, and more for businesses, nonprofits, and other groups. Reach out today at 858-876-8176 or get in touch online to take the first step towards going from “them” to “us.”