5 Ways to Transform Your Company’s DEI Training

To create the best DEI initiative for your business, don’t forget to listen, engage, learn, lead, and be as open-minded as possible.

Standard-issue annual diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) training—the one time each year in which managers require their employees to sit around for a couple of hours while they lecture about the importance of it all—is ready for a change. There’s no engagement. It feels forced and, quite frankly, yields minimal benefit.

There’s a growing demand for measurable DEI results. BuiltIn noted that 40 percent of company leaders wanted to report on DEI metrics this year, and 43 percent of them are interested in building a DEI manifesto. However, creating an environment where we all feel included and heard isn’t easy.

Where to Begin

Here are ways to begin to transform your company’s DEI training—and support a more vibrant company culture.

1. Lead the pack and practice what you preach.

It takes more than written statements and a campaign to cultivate a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace. You must lead by example. If organizations want to better integrate DEI into daily operations, they must have executives and managers who are champions for DEI and embody those values in their behavior.

To establish stronger, more resonant DEI training, connect the “why” back to your company values and purpose. This helps to communicate that your training and DEI efforts are logical manifestations of who you are as a company—not the latest fad or trend you “have to do.” And then, hold yourself accountable to receive different types of feedback and reinforce basic workplace etiquette. Managers and higher-ups need to model behavior that is similar to what they want to see their employees adopt.

2. Listen to employees and make it real.

Ask your employees what they think about your current diversity and inclusion programs. Sometimes it takes unvarnished feedback to improve your program. Ask them what you’re missing, what they would like to see, and what they need from you.

Make your DEI programming more real and tangible for employees by weaving in human stories—perhaps even from your own workforce. The human element builds empathy. By incorporating real people and real-world scenarios into your DEI curriculum, when possible, your content has a greater ability to resonate with learners.

3. Ensure your programs are engaging.

Culture and norms change frequently, so DEI training must change, too. There’s nothing worse than trying to train a group of adults on an outdated program. Incorporate current issues or events to keep your programs fresh and relevant. In addition, training sessions should be short and sweet, which leads to higher engagement and information retention. Stick to audio and video assets to help share simple, easy-to-understand messages from credible leaders and staff, and then echo them on multiple channels throughout the year.

4. Highlight the gray areas.

Traditional ethics and compliance training often follows a “should and shouldn’t do” format. But topics related to DEI are far more nuanced than that. Focus your curriculum on helping people understand what systemic issues need to change and encouraging them to question their own perceptions. Create a space where it’s OK to not know something and ask questions. As long as someone demonstrates that they’re coming from a place of wanting to grow, people are likely going to give them room to grow.

And remember, DEI encompasses a wide range of sensitive topics, many of which will prompt discussion and self-reflection. Think about a DEI curriculum as more of a journey than an on-paper guide.

5. Think globally when it comes to DEI.

If your company is multinational, your DEI curriculum needs to reflect that. A global approach involves more than just nationalities. The key is ensuring the wider learning experience accounts for cultural differences. Discrimination and racism are unfortunately everywhere and manifest differently in different places. Account for that in your DEI training by starting with the most basic message of seeing our commonalities with one another, then building from there.

Successfully Meet the Ever-Increasing DEI Demand

The demand for DEI is growing. There are a wide array of benefits associated with its implementation. LRN’s recent Benchmark of Ethical Culture report shows organizations with a higher ethical culture—this includes those that are intentional about DEI—outperform their peers by 40 percent across a number of business metrics.

Effective DEI practices can improve employee satisfaction, resulting in applications from—and the retention of—the highest quality professionals in a company’s industry. To create the best DEI initiative for your business, don’t forget these key objectives: listen, engage, learn, lead, and be as open-minded as possible.

Emily Miner is a director in LRN’s Ethics & Compliance Advisory practice. She counsels executive leadership teams on how to actively shape and manage their ethical culture through deep quantitative and qualitative understanding and engagement. A skilled facilitator, Miner emphasizes co-creative, bottom-up, and data-driven approaches to foster ethical behavior and inform program strategy. Miner has led engagements with organizations in the healthcare, technology, manufacturing, energy, utilities, professional services, and education industries, as well as education, nonprofit, and inter-governmental agencies. Miner co-leads LRN’s ongoing flagship research on E&C program effectiveness and is a thought leader in the areas of organizational culture, leadership, and E&C program impact. Prior to joining LRN, Miner applied her behavioral science expertise in the environmental sustainability sector, working with non-profits and several New England municipalities; facilitated earth science research in academia; and contributed to drafting and advancing international climate policy goals. Miner has a Master of Public Administration in Environmental Science and Policy from Columbia University and graduated magna cum laude from the University of Florida with a degree in Anthropology.