Workplace Culture

Best Practices for Diversity Training

By Todd Henneman

Sep. 12, 2011

Here are five of the best practices based on research and companies’ experiences.

• Communicate an individual business case. During the past decade, developing a business case for diversity has become a standard practice within companies. However, organizations also should communicate what Villanova University management professor Quinetta Roberson calls an individual business case. “People want to know, ‘What’s in it for me?’ ” says Roberson, who studies strategic diversity management. “Is this going to increase my skill set where I’m more likely to be identified as a high-potential or future leader? They need to be given some kind of motivation to learn.” That way, they’re more engaged when they attend training.

• Use experiential training focused on behaviors. “Generic and theoretical learning doesn’t have the same stickiness as experiential learning,” says Michael Hyter, president of diversity consultant Global Novations. Leading-edge practices incorporate experiential learning that develops skills rather than simulates discrimination. “We don’t teach people how to manage black people,” Hyter says. “We teach people how to teach people who are different than them.”

• Adopt clear metrics. Determine the goals of diversity training and evaluate its effectiveness, says Shilpa Pherwani, a managing partner with diversity consultant Ibis Consulting Group. Pherwani‘s firm tracks effectiveness by creating action plans for participants, tying the actions to organizational competencies. Steps may include setting specific recruiting and hiring goals for people of color and providing equitable opportunities to members of underrepresented groups.

• Encourage employees to practice what they learned. Managers need to provide opportunities for subordinates to apply their diversity training, Roberson says. “We saw examples where employees would go back to their job excited about what they learned, but their managers would say, ‘I don’t care about all that diversity stuff. You’ve been gone for a day or two. I need you to do X, Y and Z.’ ” But when managers share the newly trained subordinate’s enthusiasm, they’re reinforcing the message that the company values diversity and inclusion programs.

• Don’t expect training to be a panacea. “Diversity training just in and of itself doesn’t change the culture,” Pherwani says. It should be part of a comprehensive strategy that includes recruitment, mentoring and talent management. The diversity training helps explain the business rationale and provide skills to engage in difficult diversity conversations. Combining that training with a systemic approach provides a road map to organizations that want to build an inclusive culture, she says.

Workforce Management, August 2011, p. 14Subscribe Now!

Todd Henneman is a writer based in Los Angeles.

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