Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) has been a hot topic for a while now—as it should be. According to consulting firm McKinsey, in 2014, gender-diverse companies were 15 percent more likely to financially outperform their less “genderfied” competitors.

That margin grew to 25 percent in 2019. The outperformance capabilities of ethnically diverse workforces also grew, from 35 percent in 2014 to 36 percent in 2019. Diversity is not only a smart business decision; it’s also good for business! Deloitte’s research came to a similar conclusion, with DEI leading to better innovation (83 percent), responsiveness (31 percent), and team collaboration (42 percent). 

What is diversity, equity, and inclusion training?

The more a workforce learns about the benefits of diversity, equity, and inclusion, the better it is for the workplace. But should companies invest in diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace training? Does it really bear fruit? The numbers don’t lie: there is an undeniable business case for training the workforce in all aspects of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Undoubtedly, that investment does pay off!

A diverse workplace is one where people from different cultures, ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, and orientations work seamlessly together. Statistical and anecdotal evidence suggests that these (diverse, equitable, and inclusive) spaces are more productive and rewarding for everyone—employees, management teams, suppliers, and shareholders. Any training initiative that furthers the achievement of those objectives falls within the scope of diversity, equity, and inclusion training.

A diversity training program seeks to equip employees with the knowledge and skills needed to eliminate discrimination; reduce prejudices; promote transparency, equality, and equity; and foster productive inter-group interactions across a workplace.

Unfortunately, because employees are a microcosm of the broader societies that they represent, workforces include many of the prejudices and predispositions prevalent in those societies. It takes conscious effort, such as workplace training and education, to eradicate such preconceptions from the workplace. 

For instance, one example of diversity training might aim to stamp out unconscious biases that hiring managers, performance supervisors, and rank-and-file people-leaders might have about specific segments of a workforce. Without resolute effort to train employees to recognize those biases, it’s likely that a company may miss hiring high-performing potential talent because they represent a group that’s the target of unintended workplace biases. 

The importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion training

Before we address the question about the importance of diversity and inclusion training in a workplace, let’s understand why training, in general, is an essential competitive tool in today’s fast-paced global business environment. Consider what it could mean for a business operating in a highly competitive industry to not have its employees trained in industry best practices. Better-trained competitors may easily displace a company from the industry!

Since diversity, equity, and inclusion, in and of itself, offers a competitive edge to a company, having employees trained in DEI best practices is clearly advantageous. Having a diverse group of individuals working with the company, ensuring that key decisions and policies include everyone’s perspectives and treating all employees equally and fairly makes for a more committed and higher-performing workforce. Without the proper diversity training in the workplace, organizations can lose competitive standing in their industry.

Examples of DEI activities

Here are some topics and activities that organizations, looking for ideas when launching diversity and inclusion in the workplace training programs, might consider:

Diversity Awareness

Even though it might not feel like a “typical” training exercise, raising awareness about company-specific DE&I challenges, goals, and objectives, through regular info sessions, newsletters, and corporate announcements, is a good start to any corporate diversity program. The best part about this “training”, is that it doesn’t happen in classrooms or through virtual instructor-led training (V-ILT) – it can happen during the routine course of everyday business activities

Diversity Icebreakers

As part of any ongoing diversity program, it’s important for workforce participants to understand each other, and learn about each other’s concerns and challenges. Hosting D&I icebreaker games, such as Step Apart, Step Together, helps teams discover commonalities and differences among co-workers. And like awareness initiatives, these training events may happen anywhere/time that employees interact: Team meetings, briefing sessions, brainstorming gatherings, milestone celebrations, or at after-office-hours social events 

DEI-themed Lunch and Learn

Organizations can encourage periodic Lunch & Learn sessions, where employees from diverse ethnic or cultural backgrounds introduce some aspect of their culture, challenges, fears, and struggles, to members of the group. Besides being a great informal diversity and inclusion training strategy, such sessions are excellent team-building sessions too. Because teams dine and discuss these topics face-to-face, in an informal setting, they feel less like regimented training sessions and, therefore, foster greater employee engagement and commitment to D&I training 

Corporate Diversity Calendar

Further the goals of workplace respect, tolerance, and acceptance, by developing a Diversity Calendar. Draw suggestions from employees across the organization for specific themes – such as Black History Month, Notable Women of this Month, LGBTQ+ Hero of the Month, Religious & Cultural Festivals of the Month (Hanukkah, Easter, Eid, Diwali, MLK Day, Pride Month, National Indigenous People’s Day)  

Formal Diversity Training

While most of the tactics, topics and activities discussed above are informal in nature, they are no substitute for formal diversity and inclusion in the workplace training. A good idea is to work with external D&I training specialists to develop training courses on topics such as Anti-bullying, Sexual harassment, Cultural sensitivity, Implicit bias (a.k.a. unconscious bias), Workplace accommodation, Accessibility, and updates to DE&I legislation and laws  

As we noted earlier, there’s a wealth of information online that can steer you to the right model for making your organization more diverse and inclusive. Other diversity training examples would be to sponsor a Book Club of literature related to various ethnicities and cultures represented in your company, hosting International Potluck Day/week, or organizing virtual visits to diversity-themed museums and exhibitions. 

The key, however, to successfully organizing and implementing these DEI topics and activities, is to form a well-represented Diversity Committee, and support it – monetarily, by visible leadership commitment, and with technical support – through empowered Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). And you can’t do that without a detailed diversity and inclusion blueprint to guide you.

Essential Topics for Inclusive DEI Training

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) training has become an indispensable part of fostering a more inclusive workplace culture. To create a thriving environment where all employees feel valued and respected, it’s crucial to address a wide range of DEI topics. While the list is extensive, here are some common topics that should be included in your DEI training program:

  • Ableism: Begin by educating your workforce on ableism, which refers to discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Cover topics such as accessibility, reasonable accommodations, and the importance of fostering a supportive environment for differently-abled employees.
  • Ageism: Addressing ageism is vital, as it affects both younger and older employees. Encourage participants to challenge stereotypes and biases related to age and recognize the unique perspectives and contributions that individuals of different age groups bring to the workplace.
  • Gender Identity: Explore the spectrum of gender identities beyond the binary. Teach employees about inclusive language and etiquette, pronoun usage, and the importance of respecting and validating people’s gender identities.
  • Neurodiversity: Promote awareness and acceptance of neurodiversity in your DEI training. Discuss conditions such as autism, ADHD, and dyslexia, emphasizing the strengths and talents that neurodivergent individuals bring to the workforce.
  • Sexual Orientation: Ensure your training program includes LGBTQ+ inclusion. Educate participants on different sexual orientations and how to create a welcoming environment where everyone can bring their authentic selves to work.
  • Unconscious Bias: Dive into the concept of unconscious bias, which affects decision-making and interactions in the workplace. Provide tools and strategies to recognize and mitigate bias, fostering a fair and inclusive work environment.
  • Microaggressions: Discuss the impact of microaggressions, which are subtle, often unintentional acts of discrimination. Teach employees how to identify and address microaggressions to create a more inclusive workplace culture.
  • Intersectionality: Emphasize the interconnectedness of multiple identities, such as race, gender, and sexual orientation. Help participants understand the unique experiences and challenges faced by individuals with intersecting identities.
  • Cultural Competence: Encourage cultural competence by exploring the customs, values, and experiences of different racial and ethnic groups. Teach employees how to navigate diverse perspectives respectfully and effectively.
  • Allyship: Promote allyship as a crucial element of DEI training. Empower employees to become allies by offering support and advocacy to colleagues from marginalized groups.
  • Inclusive Leadership: Train leaders and managers to model inclusive behavior and create an inclusive workplace culture. Discuss the role of leadership in driving DEI initiatives within the organization.
  • Legal Framework: Ensure that participants understand the legal aspects of DEI, including anti-discrimination laws and regulations that protect employees from discrimination and harassment.

Remember that DEI training is an ongoing process that requires continuous education and reinforcement. Tailor your program to the specific needs of your organization and encourage open dialogue to create a more inclusive and equitable workplace for all.

How to create an effective diversity training program

If you go online, you’ll probably come across an example of diversity training that piques your interest. While it might be tempting to “enforce” those examples on your organization, here’s a word of advice: resist! Often, diversity training won’t work if it’s mandatory or too “scripted.” Template or cookie-cutter diversity training is bound to fail. 

The way to create an effective diversity training program isn’t to mimic, verbatim, the programs that others have implemented. Instead, follow these tried and tested tips when building your own programs:

Tip 1: Have a training strategy in place

Choosing training programs without having a proper strategy in place is akin to putting the cart before the horse! Your diversity, equity, and inclusion training programs are only as effective as the strategy they’re meant to serve. Once the strategy is in place, choose training programs, events, and initiatives that further that strategy 

Tip 2: Listen to your employees

In large, geographically diverse organizations, things often take too long to implement. The temptation is to get a core group of decision-makers to take charge of your diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace training and roll it out quickly. Don’t!

Inclusion is a keyword in DEI, and the right way to go about inclusion is to form an Employee Resource Group (ERG) with broad-based workforce participation. That approach to DEI may take time, but the payoff is worth it!

Tip 3: Customize your training

While, at a high-level, DEI aims and objectives might be the same for many organizations, the challenges that each company faces in dealing with those objectives are unique. As such, it’s essential that diversity and inclusion training strategies acknowledge that reality and personalize individual training sessions appropriately

Tip 4: Never one-and-done

When planned and executed carefully, diversity training takes time to bear fruit. However, once a strategy begins to yield results, it’s not the time to sit back and say “mission accomplished.”

To remain effective and to be continually relevant to your workforce, it’s important to constantly maintain, extend, and refresh your diversity and inclusion programs. Otherwise, it’s very likely that you’ll lose the gains made by the initial iteration of those initiatives. 

Tip 5: Monitor, measure, and report

Like any important corporate initiative, diversity training in the workplace is only as effective as the results it produces. Therefore, it’s important that DEI leaders develop a series of metrics and measurements against which to monitor, measure, and report the achievements (or lack thereof!) of such training programs. 

And, as important as developing and measuring your progress is, it’s even more important to publish, share, and socialize your DEI dashboards—not just internally, but across all stakeholder groups.

Tip 6: Leverage technology

With an ever-evolving list of burning issues, it’s difficult to build and maintain diversity-related training programs that are current and relevant. To stay on top of pertinent training topics, DEI leaders should consider adding technology-based solutions to their training tool box.

Technology-enabled diversity training examples include adding more diversity into eLearning, webinars, and live-streamed virtual all-staff sessions. You could also leverage TED talks, specialty YouTube channels, and social media networks and platforms in your training lineup to spot and highlight trend-setting DEI topics of importance.

Some thoughts on making the most of your diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace training: Leadership participation goes a long way in promoting success. Structure your DEI team with separate senior executive-level roles that have DEI-centric mandates. And, for training to be effective and not just “perceived” as relevant, senior level managers must take the lead in delivering and actively participating in each training session. Finally, seek and appoint “diversity champions” from among front-line employees who can act as training role models to encourage broader workforce participation in diversity, equity, and inclusion training.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion training case studies and examples

Of the 100 companies tracked by Harvard Law school, only 21 percent reported providing training on equity issues such as anti-harassment. And just 7 percent report promotions and internal hires by race and ethnicity, while less than half of those surveyed (42 percent) disclosed their diversity spend amounts. 

Corporate Racial Equity Tracker, Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance

While these are dismal DEI statistics by any account, there are, however, case studies and use cases where corporate entities are doing the right things to move the diversity and inclusion needle in the right direction. For instance, an analysis of corporate diversity training examples showed that 91 percent of the previously mentioned 100 companies surveyed are addressing DEI education and training programs. 

Notably, as was the case at Daimler, learning events such as diversity training in the workplace and diversity awareness workshops not only serve to further the cause of DEI at grassroot levels, but can also educate senior levels of management on how to respond to specific DEI challenges.

Other companies, such as global software giant SAP, include specific DEI training elements to help employees recognize the need for thought diversity, not just ethnic or cultural diversity and inclusion.  

Here are some diversity and inclusion in the workplace training success stories and examples from the corporate world that are worth emulating:

BAE Systems is an international defense, aerospace, and security company which offers clients a full range of products and services for their national defense needs, including security technology, information systems, and advanced electronics for air, sea, and land-based forces. 

BAE recognized that a diverse workforce, comprised of employees drawn from prospective pools of candidates across socio-ethnic groups, was critical to innovation and productivity. They also acknowledged that diversity and inclusivity brought the company’s workforce closer to representing their customer base. The challenge, however, was the perception that the company had high barriers to entry for underrepresented groups: How could they reach out to a diverse group of potential employees (females and/or from a Black, Asian, or minority ethnic communities) who might not otherwise consider BAE as an employer of first choice?

BAE funded a program, in collaboration with a not-for-profit external partner, to develop and deliver a series of personal development and leadership programs that helped individuals from diverse communities develop and apply their talents. The company also has an employee-led group to support cultural and ethnic diversity. These initiatives help promising candidates from diverse communities land internships with the company, while others use the training and skills gained as a launching pad into the broader engineering and technology industry.  

The Dow Chemical Company is a US multinational chemical corporation based in Midland, Michigan and is a subsidiary of Dow Inc. Rated as one of the three biggest global chemical producers, Dow produces a range of plastics, agricultural products, and chemicals.

The company realized that, in order to serve as a model global company, it would need to build a fully inclusive workplace. Leadership also realized broader workplace representation and diverse employee perspectives as key drivers of innovation and org-wide success. One five-million-dollar diversity and inclusion training initiative that the company launched collaborated with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to cultivate a black STEM talent pipeline. 

The company’s objectives were to inspire individuals from underrepresented minority communities to embrace STEM disciplines. Through these learning programs, aspiring candidates received educational support from entry-level STEM programs through doctoral studies. The company also provided exposure to company-specific work environments by offering Dow mentorship and networking opportunities, partnering on industrial research with the candidates, and providing placements within the company. 

The company’s Dow ACTs framework, which has a committed funding package of five million dollars over the next five years, is heavily involved in corporate advocacy for workplace segments who are typically discriminated against and suffer bias, including LGBTQI+ individuals. In addition to broad (52.4 percent globally) participation in diversity-and-inclusion-focused Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), a cornerstone commitment of racial equity and advanced inclusion training for all leadership and Human Resources professionals will also go a long way to improve diversity and inclusion across all levels within the organization. 

A globally recognized household name, Microsoft is a US multinational technology company that offers a wide range of technology products and solutions, including computer software, consumer electronics, personal computers, and allied services. Headquartered in Redmond, Washington, Microsoft employs more than 180,000 employees globally.

As a global corporation that designs user experiences for all of humanity, Microsoft knew the importance of gathering, listening, and including as many diverse perspectives as possible when designing and developing its products and services. 

Amongst a host of other initiatives, the company’s broad-based DEI strategies include racial equity, creating growth and development opportunities for LGBTQIA+ communities, encouraging under-represented racial minorities to fully participate in the workplace, and bringing more women into its workforce. The DEI learning resources that the company uses and offers to its customers cover topics as diverse as Inclusion and Bias, Inclusion and Covering, Inclusion and Allyship, and Inclusion and Privilege. Internal numbers indicate that such training and learning is bearing fruit on the company’s DEI efforts.

In 2021, the number of women in Microsoft’s global workforce grew 64.9 percent (since 2017), while Black and African-American employees now make up 5.7 percent of its US workforce (up by 0.9 percent). Employee engagement and positive workplace sentiment about transparency, belonging, authenticity, team culture, and belief in Microsoft’s commitment to diversity has risen to 90 percent. 

Another key metric of DEI, engagement and opportunities for people with disabilities, has also grown, with 7.1 percent of core business employees in the US (compared to 6.1 percent earlier) identifying themselves as persons with disabilities.

Pay equity is also an important component of a broad-based DEI strategy. For every 1.000 dollar earned by their white counterparts, racial and ethnic minority employees in Microsoft now earn 1.006 dollars, while women in the Microsoft workforce in the US earn 1.002 dollars (and 1.001 dollars globally) for every 1.000 dollar  earned by men in the workplace. 

Incorporating a DEI strategy into your organization that includes effective and engaging DEI training can have a significant impact on your bottom line and the satisfaction of your employees. If you haven’t already built DEI into your company, it’s not too late to start!

Make DEI work for you

If you are looking to personalize a diversity training program that works for you, then you’ll need the experience and expertise of a team of professionals that know DEI as well as understanding the training challenges it entails. As a first step, contact us to develop a customized DEI training program for your organization.