How to Institute a Diversity Training Program

Learn a crucial step to reinforce a D&I-driven culture

Group of diverse colleagues having an informal meeting

10'000 Hours / Getty Images

While many companies have proclaimed their commitment to ramping up diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts, it takes more than just the messaging and mission statements, but actual, significant internal steps to address the matter. After all, depending on the workplace, fostering D&I may require more of a large-scale, cultural, and systemic shift. 

The Benefits of Workplace Diversity

Why is having a diverse and inclusive workplace so important? Studies show that the benefits are numerous, as D&I and the fresh perspectives that come with it can lead to better financial performance, smarter decision-making, and a boost in innovation and employee engagement. Of course, the advantages aren’t just limited to increasing the bottom line. Having a diverse and inclusive workforce can also be crucial to recruit and retain valuable talent, as D&I is an important factor for more than three in four job candidates when deciding to apply or accept an offer.

In light of this persuasive data, businesses should recognize the importance of D&I and a valuable opportunity to institute initiatives such as a diversity training program—not just as a short-term solution, but a first step in enacting company-wide change. 

Barriers to Creating an Effective Program

In the process of creating a diversity training program, a company may encounter barriers such as employees being resistant to change, cultural differences, and communication challenges. Employees may also resist these programs because they feel they are not being included in the decision-making process or that their contributions are not being valued. 

To address this and fine-tune your D&I efforts, it’s important to regularly gain employee input, perspectives, and feedback on any concerns they may have through group discussions, one-on-one conversations, and surveys.  

In a 2019 study, McKinsey & Co. found that there are several ways to elevate employees’ sense of inclusion, including:

  • Having diverse, inclusive leadership.
  • Meritocracy (rewarding good performance) and initiatives to increase fairness.
  • Sponsorship from colleagues to create professional advancement opportunities.
  • Access to senior leaders. 

Creating a Diversity Training Program

Developing an effective diversity training program doesn’t have to be an overwhelming or overly ambitious endeavor, according to Denise Minor, president of MindSpring Metro DC, a coaching and leadership development company. In an email interview with The Balance, Minor said that the key is to “...keep it simple, accessible, and create a safe environment free of judgment of self and others.”  

A diversity training program can include several components, from mentoring and workshops, to lectures, gamification, and group exercises, all with the common goal of embracing differences among employees, overcoming unconscious biases, and building a more inclusive work environment.

However, making diversity training mandatory may challenge some companies, and it’s a move that Minor doesn’t necessarily agree with. “I do not advocate training being mandatory,” she said. “D&I is a choice people have to make every day. As adult learners, training should be experiential and provide actions that can be immediately put to work post-training.“

Leadership Training

Minor notes that having a leadership team educated on and dedicated to diversity training is pivotal. “The reality is this: Without someone guiding the process, it is nearly impossible to take toolkits and tip sheets and transform them into sustainable change in an organization,” she said.

If a company can’t allocate budget, time, or resources for outsourcing diversity training, senior leadership teams can take advantage of short-term certification programs, from which they can earn designations such as certified diversity trainer (CDT), certified diversity professional (CDP) and certified diversity executive (CDE). 

There are several free D&I certificate programs being offered by colleges, including the University of South Florida and Rowan University, as well as many virtual courses you can sign up for.

Ongoing Actions

After the diversity training process, Minor offers several suggestions for a company to continue maintaining its D&I goals and standards:

  • Establish hiring committees: Prioritize diverse, inclusive hiring committees.
  • Employ blind application processes: This can include removing names and educational institutions when resumes are under consideration.
  • Equalize evaluations: Use the same standards for all employees when conducting performance reviews and awarding promotions.
  • Mentoring: Ensure all employees have equal access to mentoring programs.
  • Hold exit interviews: Conduct exit interviews with employees to record valuable data that can be used to improve workplace culture in the future.

The Bottom Line

“Diversity” and “inclusion” are not just timely buzzwords that can be thrown around but ultimately ring hollow. Cultivating real change in your organization that will bring a diverse, inclusive workplace to reality requires in-depth education and high-level action. “Creating a culture that is committed to diversity and inclusion requires a long-term strategy and a professional understanding of human behavior, change management, and the dynamics of D&I, including an understanding of the neuroscience behind D&I so we can get to the root of our unconscious bias,” said Minor.

Instituting a diversity training program can certainly be a step in the right direction. And by teaching what D&I is (and isn’t), getting employee insights and feedback, and making adjustments along the way, employers can have better performance indicators, more engaged workers, and the satisfaction of knowing they are, in their own way, making the world a fairer place.