After a year of navigating through the COVID-19 pandemic and racial and social justice movements, many organizations are starting to welcome employees back to the workplace. Along with taking steps to ensure employees’ health and safety, HR leaders should also make diversity and inclusion training part of the reboarding process.
Whether employees are returning to the workplace full-time or in a remote-hybrid model, training offers a flexible platform to reinforce the organization’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) — and smooth the transition back to a work environment that may be very different from the one employees left a year ago.
An effective DEI training program reinforces an organization’s culture, fosters a sense of belonging and psychological safety and motivates employees and managers to be champions of positive change by:
Exploring key concepts and ideas
Employees and managers need to be able to recognize and understand DEI concepts and how they manifest in individual and collective behaviors toward members of underrepresented or marginalized groups. Among the topics and social issues that diversity training should explore include different forms of racism, racial identity, bias, microaggressions, inclusion and cultural competency.
Building awareness of inclusion in everyday actions
By taking a strategic and practical approach to DEI, training complements an organization’s formal initiatives, such as employee resource groups and diversity councils or task forces. Through realistic examples, videos and insights that reflect an employee’s experiences with unconscious bias, microaggressions and other conduct that can lead to unfair decisions and outcomes, training has the ability to connect on an emotional level to drive behavior change. With the emphasis on the positive, training is a great tool for promoting the benefits of workplace respect and civility, mentoring and bystander intervention.
Encouraging employees to raise questions and concerns
Employees need to feel comfortable speaking up and raising questions and concerns during conversations, focus groups and roundtables, as well as through formal communication channels that enable employees to report issues and offer ideas and suggestions to improve policies, processes and practices. Employee engagement surveys are another valuable source for gathering information on employees’ perceptions of diversity and inclusion and what they think of the organization’s progress.
Highlighting the role of managers
Leadership and front-line managers are critical in communicating the organization’s’ DEI values and goals in different ways to employees, starting with their own words and actions. While recruiting and hiring candidates from a wide range of backgrounds, experiences and identities is an important step, it shouldn’t be the last. Managers need to make sure everyone feels valued and people from all groups have opportunities to participate in the organization’s operations and leadership in a genuine way.
Many organizations are in the process of bringing employees back to the workplace after a year of unprecedented challenges. An effective return-to-work strategy should include DEI training to send a strong message about the organization’s ongoing commitment to improving diversity and inclusion, and reinforce managers’ responsibility to avoid bias and other roadblocks to making all employees feel more engaged, connected and part of building an inclusive culture.
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