Diversity is not a program that you can take off the shelf and use once a year. It is also more than sending employees through a one-hour training class. I was heartened to read a study in the Academy of Management Learning & Education that reinforced my thinking.
If the desire for diversity training is behavioral change, we must look to validated evidenced-based approaches both in psychology and in adult education. More than half of the 178 articles reviewed by the authors did not follow any theoretical tradition. In other words, the content, design and facilitation of the training is not based on any proven method.
Why would you invest in something unproven and unmeasured? Companies are spending millions on training that may not give them the desired outcome, and they don’t even know it.
In addition, the research showed that “diversity training complemented by other diversity initiatives” was more effective than “isolated diversity training.” Climate assessments, developing diversity targets, equity frameworks for hiring, retaining, and promotion employees are equally necessary.
Diversity initiatives supported by the top management have a higher chance for success. Achieving the business benefits of an inclusive, engaged team is more than a side-initiative of the HR department. Integrating diversity as a key performance indicator at the board level is a best practice.
As for the age-old question of mandatory or voluntary. The researchers did not come to a firm conclusion, but suggested mandatory could be better. The reasoning is that mandatory suggests the companies has a firm commitment to inclusion. In addition, voluntary may not bring in the participants that would most benefit from the training. Instead we would be what we in the southern US call, “preaching to the choir.”
Diversity is an integrated part of your company’s strategy weaved throughout every aspect of your business – from development to sales. And the responsibility for diversity and inclusion should not be left solely in the hands of HR. It must be pervasive and part of every conversation. And that’s not just because it’s the right thing to do. It is because research shows that putting diversity and inclusion center stage will increase your company’s financial success and reduce the high operational cost of disgruntled employees significantly. Companies with inclusive cultures have employees that take less sick days, are more willing to achieve and contribute and help to promote the company to their networks.
The reference for the study mentioned in this article is the following: Bezrukova, K., Jehn, K. A., & Spell, C. S. (2012). Reviewing diversity training: Where we have been and where we should go. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 11(2), 207-227.