5 Essential Topics for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Training

Ongoing DE&I training should be part of an organization’s holistic, long-term strategy to foster a more open, welcoming, and inclusive workplace culture.

A global pandemic, polarizing politics, and movements for racial and social justice have propelled Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) to the forefront in organizations around the world. Creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace culture requires many pieces working together—developing a long-term strategy; gaining leadership’s buy-in; allocating sufficient resources; and coordinating communications, training, and education.

For HR and Training leaders, implementing an effective diversity training program is one of the key components of improving workplace culture and fostering inclusive behaviors. Training also serves as a flexible tool to communicate an organization’s DE&I goals and expectations, encourage candid conversations and feedback, and provide practical tactics for being more inclusive in everyday interactions.

A recent SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) survey of 1,275 HR professionals found that 52 percent of organizations are providing or plan to provide new training on unconscious bias, equity, inclusion, and other diversity-related topics. And almost half (49 percent) have added or plan to add training on these topics to existing educational initiatives.
As work environments evolve (many organizations are allowing employees to work from home permanently), online training must evolve with it—both in content and user experience.  Like any content created to engage consumers, diversity training should be relevant, interactive, and updated regularly to reflect changes that are happening inside and outside of the workplace.

These five training topics are among the essentials for fostering a more open, welcoming, and inclusive workplace culture:

  1. Understanding the difference between diversity and inclusion
    While most people know what diversity means, the concept of inclusion requires a different level of understanding. An article in Harvard Business Review, “Diversity Doesn’t Stick Without Inclusion,” explains the difference this way: “In the context of the workplace, diversity equals representation. Without inclusion, however, the crucial connections that attract diverse talent, encourage their participation, foster innovation, and lead to business growth won’t happen.”

If diversity is a mix of people with different characteristics, backgrounds, abilities, experiences, and perspectives, an inclusive workplace takes diversity to the next level by involving marginalized or underrepresented people in the organization’s operations and leadership. Managers who act inclusively invite and listen to underrepresented voices and encourage interactions between different groups, departments, job titles, and management levels.
2. Raising awareness of unconscious bias

Unconscious bias, also known as implicit bias or hidden bias, poses a serious roadblock to DE&I. Either favorable or unfavorable, unconscious bias occurs when people—usually without realizing it—make judgments and take mental shortcuts based on stereotypes about someone’s race, gender, ethnicity, age, disability, or other factors. A recent survey by the American Management Association (AMA) on diversity, inclusion, and belonging found that nearly 80 percent of the more than 700 participants admitted to unconscious bias, and nearly 83 percent said they have witnessed unconscious bias by others in the workplace.

Unconscious bias training for all employees, including resume screeners and hiring managers, can raise awareness of different types of unconscious bias and minimize its influence on workplace practices, policies and processes.

  1. Recognizing and addressing microaggressions
    The concept of microaggressions, which has been familiar in psychology for decades, has become part of the larger conversation around DE&I. Dr. Derald Wing Sue, a professor of counseling psychology at Columbia University and a microaggressions pioneer, describes them as everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to individuals of a marginalized group.

Common examples of microaggressions are telling a person of color they are so articulate, or always interrupting women in meetings or assuming someone’s sexual orientation by their appearance. Often stemming from unconscious bias, these seemingly harmless comments have been compared to death by a thousand cuts and can cause health problems, workplace burnout, and other negative effects. Training helps employees recognize what microaggressions are and how to respond, whether they are on the receiving end, a witness, or have been called out for a microaggression.
4. Encouraging allyship and bystander intervention

The #MeToo movement brought bystander intervention training to the forefront as one of the most effective ways to stop inappropriate behavior before it crosses the line into illegal harassment. A former commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) called bystander intervention training a potential game changer in the workplace and a positive influence in creating a sense of collective responsibility among employees. Being an active bystander helps diversity and inclusion efforts, too. By teaching different ways to be advocates and allies of co-workers who are targets of bias, microaggressions, and other non-inclusive behavior, employees learn how to show support and empathy for their marginalized or underrepresented co-workers.

  1. Understanding the link between diversity and preventing workplace harassment
    Diversity training is also an opportunity for organizations to reinforce anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies and procedures and encourage individuals to speak up and report misconduct. A lack of diversity is one of the risk factors for workplace harassment, according to the EEOC’s Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace. The task force report notes that sexual harassment of women is more likely to occur in organizations where the workforce is primarily male, and racial/ethnic harassment is more likely to occur where one race or ethnicity is predominant.

A lack of respect for diversity of thought also can lead to harassment. The task force said that increasingly heated discussions of current events occurring outside the workplace “may make harassment inside a workplace more likely or perceived as more acceptable,” posing a risk employers should consider and address.

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As part of a holistic, long-term strategy, organizations that provide ongoing diversity training to all employees can benefit from more inclusive thinking and actions that boost recruiting and retention, help underrepresented individuals feel more engaged and connected, and unlock the potential of a truly diverse and inclusive workforce.
Andrew Rawson is the Chief Learning Officer and co-founder of Traliant, an innovator in online sexual harassment training, diversity training and other essential workplace topics that drive positive behavior and foster a respectful, inclusive workplace culture.