Amid the challenges of COVID-19 and the spotlight on diversity, equity and inclusion, HR professionals around the world are having conversations about how to strengthen workplace culture and foster a sense of belonging. As one component of a holistic strategy, diversity training can support DEI initiatives and encourage new ways of working during COVID-19 and beyond.
Training can engage employees in creating a diverse and more inclusive workplace by:
1. Expanding the notion of diversity
While much of the current focus is on racial diversity and equity in the workplace, diversity is a broad term. And one individual can represent many aspects of diversity, including diversity of thought. A diverse workplace comprises a mix of people with different characteristics and backgrounds, including age, religion, gender, ability, sexual orientation, ethnicity and veteran status.
2. Encouraging inclusive actions
If diversity is the ‘what’ then inclusion is the ‘how.’ The key to inclusion is creating a work environment in which people with different backgrounds, ideas and identities feel valued and respected and have opportunities to influence the organization’s operations and leadership.
3. Preparing employees for conversations on race
In a recent webcast, SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor acknowledged the challenges of workplace conversations about race. “It’s time we all get comfortable with being a little uncomfortable,” he said. By increasing employees’ understanding of racism and racial identity, and encouraging them to reflect upon their own attitudes and behaviors, training can help prepare them for constructive workplace conversations about race and other related topics.
4. Raising awareness of unconscious bias
Favorable or unfavorable, unconscious or implicit biases are social stereotypes and assumptions that hinder diversity and inclusion and can lead to discrimination. Unconscious bias training helps raise awareness of unconscious biases and minimize their influence on workplace decisions, such as who to hire, invite to join a team or lead a project.
5. Raising awareness of microaggressions
Microaggressions are common in the workplace for people of color, women, LGBTQ individuals, employees with disabilities and other marginalized groups. While these everyday slights and offensive comments may appear to be harmless, microaggressions communicate hidden negative or derogatory messages about members of a particular group, and can affect the health and well-being of their targets.
6. Helping prevent discrimination and harassment
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has spurred incidents of discrimination, bullying and social stigma against people of Asian descent, healthcare workers and individuals who’ve contracted the virus, show symptoms or are associated with someone who has been infected. Whether working from home or onsite, employees need to understand what is and isn’t acceptable behavior and the connection between preventing discrimination and harassment and fostering diversity and inclusion.
7. Promoting empathy and allyship
Empathy — the ability to listen, think and imagine how a person may be experiencing the world — is a valuable skill in any work environment. During a time of crisis, showing genuine empathy and being a workplace ally to members of a marginalized or underrepresented group are essential DEI skills.
As HR leaders continue to grapple with the challenges of a global pandemic and making meaningful progress on DEI, diversity training can reinforce shared values and drive positive behaviors that help employees and organizations create a workplace culture of respect, inclusion and belonging.