The ability to interact effectively with people of different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives is increasingly important in today’s multicultural, multigenerational work environment. Attracting and retaining a diverse workforce can provide many benefits and competitive advantages for organizations of all sizes and industries — increasing and improving creativity, productivity, employee engagement, teamwork, customer satisfaction and company and brand reputation.
As part of a long-term strategy to improve diversity and inclusion and motivate positive attitudes and behaviors, an interactive diversity training program is an essential part of the ongoing process.
What is Diversity and Sensitivity Training?
HR and learning leaders understand that to be effective, diversity training shouldn’t be treated as a check-the-box, one-off event. It should be aligned with the organization’s values and priorities, and integrated into policies, practices, processes and operations.
To engage today’s modern workforce, diversity training should be interactive, relevant to the organization, its culture and the experiences of employees. Diversity training should also be mobile-optimized to enable employees who work remotely or offsite to have access anytime, anywhere and on any device.
While the terms diversity, equity and inclusion are usually joined together and represented in the acronym DEI, they are not interchangeable. Diversity is a broad term that encompasses a mix of people with characteristics and experiences. Beyond gender, race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, national origin, religion or abilities, there is diversity of thought and communication styles, among other traits. Inclusion takes diversity awareness to another level. If diversity is about representation, inclusion is about involvement and participation – ensuring that marginalized or underrepresented people have opportunities to participate in the organization’s operations and leadership.
And there is equity, which refers to fair treatment in access, opportunity and advancement for all individuals. Achieving workplace equity involves identifying and eliminating barriers, from the team level through systemic changes.
Training is a way for employees to explore the concepts and gain a deeper understanding of how they apply in everyday conversations, interactions and decisions. Diversity and sensitivity training also serves as a dynamic tool to communicate an organization’s goals and expectations for workplace conduct.
5 ways cultural sensitivity training can foster a more respectful, inclusive workplace culture:
1. Raising Cultural Awareness
Cultural awareness and cultural competency are important factors in creating a sense of belonging in the workplace and improving interactions among coworkers, customers, partners and others.Training sets the foundation for learning about and valuing different perspectives and backgrounds, and developing empathy — the ability to perceive and relate to the thoughts, emotions, or experience of others.
2. Focusing on behaviors
Connecting successfully with individuals, inside and outside of the workplace, depends a lot on having a positive attitude and behaving appropriately. But what constitutes acceptable or unacceptable behavior can mean different things to different people. Cultural sensitivity training helps ensure that employees understand the behavior expectations of the organization’s code of conduct and policies and practices to prevent discrimination, harassment, bullying and other misconduct.
Key to raising awareness and changing attitudes is deepening learners’ understanding of the different types of behaviors that help or hinder diversity and inclusion. Behavior-based training focuses on what it means, in everyday situations, to think and act inclusively — whether interactions are in-person, online or on the phone.
Training should challenge employees’ assumptions about diversity and inclusion and encourage a multidimensional view. It goes beyond race and gender, encompassing abilities, age, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, veteran status and diversity of thought, perspectives, communication styles, among other traits.
3. Making better decisions
Unconscious or implicit bias occurs when individuals make judgments, favorable or unfavorable, about people based on stereotypes or preconceived opinions. While everyone has unconscious biases, it can create problems when they surface in the workplace and lead to unfair decisions. For example, when a qualified candidate isn’t offered a job or an employee is passed over for a promotion because of their accent or age, not because of their abilities and experience. Training helps individuals understand why bias occurs, how to recognize common workplace biases, and what they can do to manage their own biases and minimize their influence on workplace decisions and interactions.
4. Improving communication skills
A lack of cultural sensitivity can limit employees’ ability to communicate effectively with different groups – internally and externally – and can alienate or offend customers, partners and colleagues working in different regions, countries and cultures. Cultural sensitivity training raises awareness of the nuances of cross-culture communication, and the importance of words, actions, gestures and body language in cultivating relationships with different people and groups.
5. Speaking up
Making sustainable progress in diversity and inclusion requires everyone’s participation and voice. Speaking up, asking questions, raising concerns and reporting incidents of discrimination, harassment, bias, microaggressions and other misconduct is key to moving from awareness to action. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and other workplace experts considerbystander intervention training one of the most effective ways to empower employees to take an active role in stopping harassment,preventing future incidents and fostering a safe, supportive, respectful workplace culture.
Organizations that provide regular diversity training to all employees and managers can benefit from a stronger work culture that attracts and retains top talent, improves team dynamics, helps underrepresented or marginalized individuals and groups feel more engaged and connected – unlocking the potential of a truly diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace.