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Diversity and inclusion training

11 min read
Diversity and inclusion training is essential for improving equality throughout your workplace. What is it, and how can you go further to ensure a culture of belonging that permeates your whole organization?


It’s well known that organizations with a diverse workforce that includes people of various races, nationalities, cultures, religions, gender identities, sexual orientation, ages, experiences, physical and mental ability, and ways of thinking are more resilient, adaptable, profitable, and industry-leading. These diversity-rich organizations embrace the different and brilliant thoughts and ideas that their people contribute. Diversity gives them the competitive edge that sets the company apart.

But not all companies support a sufficiently inclusive environment or inclusive culture that make all employees feel they belong. This is where diversity training comes in; employee training to create an environment free from unconscious bias, racial biases, and sexual harassment, with all their negative consequences that can be very bad news for a business.

What is diversity training?

Diversity training helps every employee embrace and celebrate all the unique things about a diverse workforce, and work together harmoniously. It goes way further than token ‘political correctness’ and into the arena of embracing difference and valuing the unique perspective of every employee. At the very least, diversity training sessions will help employees:

  • Be more aware of workplace diversity issues, such as those affecting underrepresented groups, in their daily interactions
  • Explore and challenge their own beliefs and unconscious biases about diversity, and acknowledge discrimination
  • Understand what motivates (and demotivates) their co-workers
  • Learn interaction and collaboration skills that help them work more effectively with people who have different qualities from their own
  • Stand up to discrimination such as racial bias or sexual harassment
  • Contribute to an inclusive workplace culture where comprehensive diversity is the norm

The 4 types of diversity

There are four types of diversity that a good diversity training program will explore:

1. Internal diversity

‘Relating or belonging to or existing within the person’, these are diversity types that a person is born into, and in most (not all) cases, cannot change. They include: race, age, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, cultural identity, assigned sex, gender identity, and physical and mental ability.

2. External diversity

These are characteristics that influence a person and can be changed, although socio-political or economic systems may make that change difficult. They include: education, religion, spirituality, socioeconomic status, family status, citizenship, geographic location, and personal experiences.

3. Organizational diversity

These are factors relating to the work people do, and the organization where they work. They include: job function, department, seniority, management status, and union membership. It’s important to track this to ensure every department and job function has diverse inclusion.

4. World view diversity

Everyone’s life experiences are unique. They shape us, and influence our world view diversity every day. World view diversity includes: political beliefs, outlook on life, cultural capital, and family upbringing. As workplace diversity increases, employees may have very different experiences and world views from their co-workers which may reinforce stereotypes.

Case study: Coca Cola

Coca-Cola sees diversity “as more than just policies and practices. It is an integral part of who we are as a company, how we operate, and how we see our future.” Diversity education programs include:

  • Diversity training
  • The Diversity Speaker Series
  • A Diversity Library
  • Coca-Cola Millennial Voices, a group of young employees tasked with ensuring a healthy level of employee retention among millennial consumers and staff members
  • A parental benefits policy of six weeks of paid leave to all new mothers and fathers.
diversity training - coca cola case study
Image from Coca-Cola Company

The different types of workplace diversity training

Basic diversity training

Any workplace diversity and inclusion training program that aspires to create a company culture of diversity, equity and inclusion needs to start with fostering empathy and respect for fellow workers. It needs to be an open and honest overview of all the issues around workplace identity and culture, and must cover:

  • Anti-racism
  • Anti-sexism
  • Gender identities and sexual orientation education
  • Cultural sensitivity training
  • The multigenerational workplace
  • HR compliance for HR professionals

Awareness training

The key tenet of awareness training is to ensure every employee understands what workplace equity is: everybody must be treated equally, whatever their different backgrounds, identity, or marginalization. Awareness training will make sure everyone knows about and understands the experiences of people of different minorities and identities. An aware workforce will be able to:

  • Make decisions and solve problems collectively
  • Respect and value every co-worker
  • Celebrate everyone’s differences
  • Represent formerly underrepresented people in the commercial world
  • Stamp out prejudice and be a model for change

Intermediate diversity training

Whereas basic diversity training and awareness training create an understanding of the issues around creating a diverse and inclusive workplace, the best diversity training programs go a step further. They give employees the tools not only to recognize ingrained personal behaviors but to acknowledge and modify them.  Intermediate diversity training helps to:

  • Identify unconscious bias and understand how to mitigate it
  • Be aware of microaggressions and eradicate them
  • Free the workplace from discrimination and stereotyping
  • Build a sense of belonging for people with diverse backgrounds
  • Encourage team cohesion and communication across all cultures

Case study: Accenture

Accenture holds a company-wide celebration of International Day of Persons with Disabilities and helps its employees with support such as assistive technology, flexible working, and extra training. They have a tripartite approach to their diversity training:

  • Diversity awareness: to understand the benefits of working for a diverse organization
  • Diversity management: to help leaders manage diverse teams
  • Professional development: to enable women, LGBT, and ethnically diverse employees to build skills for career success
diversity training - accenture case study
Image from Accenture

Mobile or online diversity training

The days of sitting in a training room with other employees being lectured about diversity, equity, and inclusion have been superseded by mobile learning and accelerated by the remote working necessities of the 2020 pandemic. Mobile is the perfect method for delivering DEI training:

  • You can include remote team members
  • It is more accessible for people with disabilities, health issues and those in other countries
  • It can be recorded and is accessible at any time

Go beyond training and create a company culture of inclusion

One of the criticisms of the one-off, box-ticking workplace diversity training program is that it can reinforce the differences between people, rather than celebrating them. Rather than simply just organizing training days or a three-hour workshop, diversity awareness and focus must be a part of a company’s DNA, with events, celebrations, and learning experiences throughout the company year. Positive messaging about DEI is then reinforced naturally, rather than a staid lecture on all the things employees shouldn’t do.

When you think that 76% of job seekers consider workplace diversity an important factor when considering employment opportunities, it’s essential that your company is known for its impeccable DEI credentials.

 Case Study: Johnson & Johnson

diversity training - Johnson & Johnson case study
Image from JnJ.com

Johnson & Johnson’s global diversity and inclusion vision is ‘to maximize the global power of diversity and inclusion, to drive superior business results and sustainable competitive advantage.’  An impressive program of diversity initiatives includes:

  • Employee resource groups (ERGs)
  • Mentoring programs
  • ‘Diversity University’ is a dynamic website that helps employees understand the benefits of collaborative working
  • The Chief Diversity Officer reports directly to the CEO and Chairman, so the whole operation is overseen by top-level management
  • Rewards and recognitions: U.S. Veterans Magazine cited Johnson & Johnson as the ‘Best of the Best’ for diversity efforts, and it has been one of only two companies that have been on the Working Mother 100 Best list for the past 28 years.

Why employee engagement is essential for creating a culture of diversity

The only way you’ll really get to the bottom of DEI issues is to devise diversity training to eradicate them and create a truly inclusive culture is by asking your employees. You’ll want to know not only the ‘what’ of the problem, but also the ‘why’, so you’ll need to use a mixture of qualitative and quantitative data. Send out diversity and inclusion surveys which include demographic metrics and open text; so that employees will be able to articulate their perspectives on what is going on, and supplement these with focus groups with leaders, managers and direct reports.

It’s essential for leaders to state:

  • why the research is being conducted
  • when the results will be communicated
  • what action will be taken as a result of the survey

How to tell if your diversity and inclusion training initiatives are successful

Your DEI initiatives should not stand in isolation from the rest of your company metrics. When you combine your operational (O) data with your experience (X) data you will get a complete picture of how diverse and inclusive your workplace culture is. The key metrics to look out for are:

  1. Leadership diversity percentage: Is your management diverse at all levels, from the C-suite to line managers?
  2. Retention: Are you keeping good people because they feel they have equal access to opportunities to upskill and advance in their careers?
  3. Training program engagement: what is the uptake for your educational, continuous learning and mentorship programs? Has engagement increased as a result of diversity and inclusion training?
  4. Employee feedback: How do your employees feel about the company culture around diversity, equity, and inclusion? How satisfied are employees with the DEI initiatives? Which demographics are happiest with them, and which are not? By identifying satisfaction gaps you can take action to close them.

Taking diversity training a stage further…

Diversity training is more than just changing the hearts and minds of existing employees who may have had less exposure to a diverse mix of people. When companies are invested in creating a workplace culture of real belonging, they need to look at changing the demographic composition of their workplace, through:

  • Outreach (to diverse universities, colleges, and professional associations)
  • Mentorship programs for every employee
  • Hiring a diversity officer or focus group to manage and measure DEI strategies and outcomes

Improve your diversity training with our DEI Employee Playbook