During this time of social unrest and global pandemic, diversity training is in high demand from HR and business leaders, who are eager to improve diversity and inclusion and address racism in the workplace.
While many employees and managers are maintaining physical distancing, diversity training that focuses on changing behavior and improving workplace culture can help shorten the gap between supportive words and meaningful actions to address racial identity, racism, inclusion, unconscious bias, microaggressions and other topics.
There are no quick fixes, of course, and training is only one element of what should be a holistic, year-round strategy that is woven throughout the organization.
Training and ongoing practice
In an article in the Harvard Business Review titled “Moving Beyond Diversity Toward Racial Equity,” Ben Hecht, President & CEO of Living Cities, a collaborative of 18 of the world’s leading foundations and financial institutions, writes that his organization “had to commit time and resources to staff members’ individual learning. Understanding history, interrogating personal biases, building empathy and respect for others, getting comfortable with vulnerability — these skills require training and ongoing practice.”
If training is to play a pivotal role, it must move beyond the check-the-box model and align with an organization’s values and priorities and workforce. All employees can benefit from training — executives, frontline managers and others at every function and level in the organization. And, cliché aside, setting the right tone at the top does matter. Advancing diversity and inclusion efforts needs leadership’s commitment to provide sufficient resources and hold people accountable.
As part of an organization’s collective efforts, diversity training is an important step in:
- Raising awareness of racial identity and the different forms of racism. Starting with the onboarding process, regular training and education can help employees learn about these complicated topics and participate in positive conversations and actions.
- Recognizing unconscious bias and microaggressions. Training can help employees understand what unconscious bias is, how it can lead to discriminatory behavior and the connection to microaggressions — those everyday slights and insults, often unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative messages to members of marginalized groups.
- Developing empathy and sensitivity. Steve Pemberton, Workhuman’s chief human resources officer, provides a heartfelt perspective in a post titled “Answering the Question, What Can I Do?” If you want to connect, he says, “remember a time when you were unseen, unheard, overlooked, bullied, marginalized, or simply had to live with your guard up. Now imagine living like that every single day of your life, worrying for yourself and your children.”
- Practicing cultural competency, respect and civility. Whether employees are working from home, in a video conference or physical distancing in the office, the ability to interact with people of different backgrounds and cultures, and participate in honest and respectful conversations is essential in creating a positive environment and implementing real change.
- Reducing the risk of workplace discrimination. HR professionals and others involved in the employment process understand that treating applicants and employees unfavorably because of their race or color (or age, gender, sex, religion or disability) violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and can result in costly lawsuits and settlements. More recently, following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, the EEOC, which enforces Title VII, issued a resolution stating it intends to redouble its efforts to address institutionalized racism, advance justice and foster equality of opportunity in the workplace.
Amid the global pandemic and social uprising, many organizations are accelerating plans to roll out diversity training and engage employees in conversations about racism in the workplace, microaggressions, unconscious bias and other related topics. As part of a holistic approach to diversity and inclusion that includes policies, systems, processes and recruiting and hiring practices, training can help HR leaders and their organizations move forward from greater awareness to sustained action.