7 keys to impactful DEIB training, from a director of DEIB

Plus, Which DEIB Training Topics & Types to Implement First

Cartoon image of a diverse group of colleagues high-fiving each other while completing virtual DEIB training

Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) training gives employees at all levels the knowledge and skills they need to work with colleagues from different backgrounds and identities. So, how do you know what types of DEIB training to implement at your company? Which training types will most directly result in inclusive and equitable work environments, where people are psychologically safe, productive, and in the company of allies — and which DEIB training efforts are more likely to come off as lip service? In other words:

How do you make DEIB training impactful?

As the Senior Director of DEIB at PowerToFly, these are all questions I’m used to hearing from the employers we partner with. In the U.S., the majority of leading companies have moved away from the mindset of avoiding lawsuits to integrating real attempts at inclusion. Yet, intention doesn’t always create impact. While my work is focused on inclusive and intentional leadership, quite often, I find that many leaders only focus on metrics while forgetting the mission and the people working toward it. For DEIB training to be successful, it needs to be holistic, layering KPIs into a people-centered approach.

A recent Harvard Business Review study concluded that, depending on the training type involved, diversity training can have the intended results, unexpected results, or sometimes no results at all. After a training aimed at gender bias, for instance, researchers tracked changes to participants’ views on gender equality and also to their workplace behavior, measuring over a span of 20 weeks things like whether they’d become more likely to offer informal mentorship to women colleagues.

  • The good: People who previously felt bias towards women in the workplace reported changing their views. They were more likely to acknowledge their own gender biases, recognize the reality of gender discrimination, and indicate their support for gender parity policies.
  • The bad: Men and White employees didn’t change their behavior toward (other) women colleagues as a result of the training.
  • The unexpected: Participants were more likely to acknowledge racial biases and provide mentorship to colleagues of color — a behavioral change — after the training, despite racism not having been an explicit part of its curriculum.

The Harvard Business Review confirms the realities I’ve seen with many of our clients: that the impact of diversity training, when not integrated with a holistic DEIB strategy, can be hard to predict, and things don’t always go as planned. Consider that:

  • Some employees become angry or resistant to compulsory diversity courses;
  • Animosity amongst different identity groups at work can increase after training sessions;
  • Marginalized people can feel pressured to represent their entire identity group;
  • And managers may feel singled out, which leads to resentment and resistance.

Yet, we also know employees are increasingly demanding and deriving value from this form of training.

In a report PowerToFly released on the expectations diverse talent has for employers today, 54% of the professionals we surveyed said they wanted their companies to offer more DEIB training in 2019. When we put out the same survey in 2021, 73% of professionals said they wanted more DEIB training. Notably, people of color were even more likely than White employees to say so; in 2021, 85% of Black and 75% of Asian or Asian American respondents said they wanted more DEIB training.

DEIB training comes in a wide variety of formats and focuses, and when implemented alongside other key DEIB initiatives, are often instrumental to improving the way underrepresented professionals experience your workplace. But knowing how to hold these trainings in a way that’s truly impactful is often a sticking point; one study found that 80% of companies are just “going through the motions” with DEIB and not holding themselves accountable.

In my experience as a DEIB leader who’s overseen hundreds of these trainings, diversity training can be extremely effective IF you're approaching it with some key criteria in mind. Below, we’ll explore what I’ve learned are the seven must-haves for an effective DEIB training plan, as well as some key types of DEIB trainings to implement.

Complete PowerToFly's (free!) DEIB Basics training series:
DEIB Basics Training Part 1: Diversity
DEIB Basics Training Part 2: Equity
DEIB Basics Training Part 3: Inclusion
DEIB Basics Training Part 4: Belonging

Why is DEIB training important?

DEIB training encourages connection.

DEIB training is about education, awareness, and skills, but even more importantly, it’s about connecting to the people around us. We’ve all heard the saying about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes before judging them. While this idea is cliché, at its core, it’s about practicing empathy.

The same is true for DEIB training. Brené Brown defines empathy as feeling with — rather than just for — someone. Empathy creates strong connections with one another. When employees connect with each other, they feel happier, less stressed, and more productive. A study found that of employees who feel productive, 71% report feeling connected to colleagues. That study also found that at companies where workplace connection is promoted, employees experience better states of physical and emotional well-being compared to other companies.

DEIB is good for customers.

When you implement DEIB training, it creates learning opportunities to have more inclusive interactions with the customers or clients you serve. Customer service is also directly connected to employee engagement. Customer retention rates are 18% higher when employees are highly engaged.

DEIB training is good for business.

Through facilitated DEIB conversations and training, employees can make authentic connections with each other. And when employees are more connected at work, they are more engaged in their jobs. Companies with high employee engagement are 22% more profitable than those with less engagement. Unfortunately, a Gallup study found that 85% of employees today are either not engaged or are actively disengaged at work. This disengagement costs the global economy about $7 trillion in lost productivity.

DEIB training helps diversify your leadership ranks.

Despite the missteps mentioned earlier, strategically approached diversity training absolutely does spark change — even at the highest levels. Voluntary training, for example, allows employees to opt-in. With this format, Harvard Business Review saw an increase of 9% to 13% in Black men, Hispanic men, and Asian-American men and women in management five years after implementing such a program.

With the right DEIB training, employees feel safer and like they have more agency in the workplace.

DEIB training is an important step in reducing workplace harassment and discrimination, which, according to the EEOC, is more likely to happen in workplaces that lack diversity. A study by the Associated Press, meanwhile, found that 6 in 10 employees who engaged in new trainings on harassment and diversity feel they have a positive effect on the workplace. Additionally, more employees of color feel these trainings have a positive effect (64%) than White employees (50%).

7 must-haves for your DEIB training plan

For your DEIB training to be substantive and successful, there are seven major areas that need to be addressed.

1. Strategy

Before your DEIB training starts, you need a strategy that helps you understand where you are now and where you want to be.

Set a goal. Harvard Business Review found that 60% of organizations say they have an existing DEI strategy. Yet, they also found that many of those strategies didn’t focus on specific goals. For example, only 26% of companies reported having gender representation goals, and a mere 16% had race representation goals. Think about what you want to accomplish. Gender pay equity? Increased representation of marginalized groups? Increased by how much, and by what date?

Identify a baseline. Understand who your team is, and have a baseline from which to measure progress. Have solid information on: employee satisfaction, stress levels, engagement levels, retention/turnover rates, and demographics.

Identify your resources. Lastly, determine the resources you have for your DEIB training. If you’re on a budget, make sure you're contracting quality training and not just ticking a box. Bringing in a third-party subject matter expert can help save time, energy, and money for your internal people and culture teams, especially when these teams may not have the bandwidth or subject matter knowledge to conduct this training themselves. Always remember, too, that no matter what level of budget you’re working with, marginalized employees should not be asked to take on the additional, unpaid work of educating their colleagues as a stand-in DEIB trainer. Either pay your staff for this work or find a trainer who’s within your budget.

Download our guide:
Looking Forward, Reflecting Back: Planning Your 2023 DEIB Strategy

2. Metrics

Measurement and indicators are critical to understand what progress you’re making. As we explained above, if the goal is to increase employee engagement, you need a baseline measurement of employee engagement. This should include both subjective measures (i.e. employee opinion) and objective measures (i.e. absentee rates). Gather your baseline data, conduct the DEIB training, and measure it all again.

Don’t be afraid of measuring at multiple points in the process, too, rather than simply before and after. Tracking progress is just as important as reaching your final goals. Regular employee surveys and other continuous feedback loops will help you collect the data you need as well as understand if what you’re doing is helping.

3. Leadership and senior involvement

While 69% of executives say diversity is important, only about four in 10 managers feel prepared to talk about race and equality with their teams. That dissonance is often due to a lack of DEIB training for senior leadership. This, when leadership and management training are especially important; your senior leaders have the power to make real changes to your company’s culture, after all.

Training is teamwork. Nobody is an exception, and nobody is a lone expert. Every member of an organization should be encouraged to participate in DEIB training.

4. Participatory learning methods

Lastly, your DEIB activities need to incorporate participatory learning methods. Purely web-based lectures where employees are passively sitting at desks will fall flat.

Participatory learning involves a teaching structure that focuses on the learner. It centers on learning-by-doing, using things like concrete DEIB training examples, small work groups, open questioning, and peer teaching. The point of DEIB training is to get employees learning about each other, connecting, and engaging.

5. Voluntary participation

Another key factor in participatory learning? Voluntary participation! If you haven’t caught on yet, the studies I reference on DEIB training missteps and backlash all have one thing in common: they all agree that compulsory training causes resistance.

When someone decides to attend these trainings voluntarily, they’re confirming that they’re an open-minded person who’s interested in learning. When forced to attend diversity trainings, people drag their feet and tend not to listen or participate. We resist control to the point that, five years after compulsory diversity training for managers, some companies actually saw a decline in marginalized groups, like Black women and Asian American men and women, in managerial ranks.

Let people feel they’re opting in, and give them a good sense of what they’re opting into. A clear and consistent communication plan that shares the importance, expected outcomes, and opportunity to engage within your DEIB training will help increase participation, too.

6. Tactics that empower bystanders

Focus training on positive actions that employees can take. Too often, workplace training focuses on educating employees on rules, regulations, and what behaviors are prohibited. Meanwhile, bystander training helps employees recognize a potentially harmful situation and respond in a way that can positively affect the outcome.

7. Size and time limits

Both small and larger classes — anywhere from 30 to 100 people — can be effective and engaging. The key is in creating a foundation for participation through things like pre-work and post-work, as well as bringing in some of the participatory learning methods we discussed earlier. It’s always a good idea to send out post-training surveys, too, to help track your education and impact lift.

When it comes to the optimal length of training, research suggests that longer is better. This is particularly true if the goal is to change underlying attitudes and behaviors. Our instinct tells us that people can’t focus, won’t read, and are too busy to engage in longer training. But five-minute sound bites aren’t going to be effective. Don’t gut the content of your training for time. Instead, break up lengthy trainings over multiple sessions.

3 key types of DEIB training to implement

When considering what kind of DEIB training to adopt at your organization, it’s helpful to group these training topics into three essential categories: awareness, action, accountability.

1. Awareness

Basic diversity training provides a foundational knowledge of basic concepts so that everyone can get on the same page. It should also establish the company’s DEI goals as well as its values.

Sensitivity training is a series of trainings meant to familiarize employees with different groups of people and identities. These DEIB courses should include areas like:

  • Race and Ethnicity
  • Gender Identity
  • Sexuality
  • Language
  • Religion
  • Age
  • Physical Ability
  • Neurodiversity
  • Socio-economic Class

2. Action

Unconscious bias training addresses how to recognize and actively reduce the impact of bias in our behaviors and work practices.

Accommodation training focuses on empowering employees to identify and ask for what they need to make their workplace more comfortable, regardless of whether they have a diagnosis.

Microaggressions training helps us understand that microaggressions exist, how they manifest at work, and how to mitigate them.

Inclusive leadership and hiring training helps managers and front-line recruitment staff develop more inclusive practices in communication and interaction.

Cultural communication training can happen in formal and informal environments. Employees at all levels need to have the right skills to communicate inclusively, but also to speak-up and have courageous conversations.

3. Accountability

Allyship training addresses strategic tools, actions, and practices for recognizing lived experiences across identity groups and actively, appropriately elevating others to drive change. These workshops can include segments on anti-racism, abolition, and more.

Community engagement training helps companies to connect with the community around them. The community is an important customer base, as well as a source of DEIB knowledge and lived experience.

DEIB training drives connection

When employees can’t connect with each other, they disengage from one another and the work of the company. The case for DEIB training is a business one — with companies standing to benefit greatly from engaged employees. But at its heart, this is a human case. How we relate to, communicate with, and empathize with each other is how we live and work together.

Let PowerToFly help you set up a DEIB training plan today.
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