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Ah, mandatory diversity training. Everyone dreads it because it comes across as one of two ways:

  1. Much too harsh and confrontational
  2. Extremely condescending

But for many organizations, educating employees about their differences is a non-negotiable part of workplace culture. There has to be a better way to think about diversity at work though, right?

If you have a diversity project you want to make relevant for 2016 learners reach out to our team here. 

In today’s global marketplace, if you have to make learning about diversity mandatory, there’s most likely already something deeply wrong with your workplace culture. Diversity training shouldn’t have to be an afternoon event that employees are forced to attend, but rather an organic process that starts from the day an employee is hired onboard.

So what’s the big problem with diversity training? That it’s still a drawn out, mandatory event whose content needs to be updated to today’s mindset on the topic. By tackling the issue at its roots, diversity becomes less of an event and more of a part of your everyday culture and organization strengths.

The Generation Gap

We usually think about diversity in terms of gender and race, but the current social landscape has highlighted a myriad of ways in which coworkers are different from one another. For one generation, it’s par for the course: Millennials have come of age in a globally connected society and are therefore more likely to accept and value diversity at work. In fact, a diverse workforce may have been one of the deciding factors in taking a job.

Not all generations are as comfortable with celebrating differences, however. Baby boomers and Gen X-ers may not be as organically connected to a diverse landscape. It’s not that they actively push against diversity in the workplace; rather, they are simply unused to the idea and may naturally prefer to work with those most like themselves (called a micro-advantage which is an unconscious bias to gravitate toward those similar to us).

Creating a learning program that encompasses these new outlooks, and focuses on bringing our biases to the surface versus telling employees diversity is important is the first step to cultivating effective diversity learning. By getting younger and older generations to work and learn together, it’s possible to clear that first hurdle of diversity.

Stop Making Diversity Mandatory

Traditionally, diversity training has always been mandatory, stemming as a solution to historical disputes between tribes and countries, along with the increase of multinational business. However, if someone is supposed to do something, psychology tells us that they are most likely going to resist.

So what’s the result? Well it’s been found that diversity has actually decreased when these trainings have been implemented so ironically, diversity training can be detrimental to growing diversity. These findings come from a series of research papers by Kalev and Harvard’s Frank Dobbin that studied nearly 830 U.S. companies.

However, the opposite happens when we walk away from a mandatory implementation.  When something is voluntary, you are indirectly giving the person the benefit and the respect in being able to make their own decision on the topic. Diversity training in 2016 should consider this model, and integrate these learnings into over culture nurture.

In Your (Human) Element

Diversity training can seem cold and calculated, especially when executed on a large or global scale. It’s all well and good to say that all types of coworkers can work together in harmony, but without an emotional connection or human element to the training, it will probably fall on deaf ears. Once leaving the classroom, not much will have changed and employees may find it easy to forget.

Coming off as too corporate is a surefire way to make sure employees ignore whatever you’re trying to say. Instead, incorporating things like personal stories and connecting with specific employee pain points can help drive the importance of diversity home without all of the stuffiness and corporate lingo.

People are affected by diversity (or a lack thereof) at work every day. Use their stories to your advantage and create an honest dialogue to which employees can actually connect.

Diversity isn’t a day-long event; it’s an organic, daily part of workplace culture. It’s not a topic to check off of a training checklist, nor is it always the most comfortable issue to talk about. By making diversity part of a regular conversation at work, the differences in race, gender, and generation become core strengths instead of divisive differences.