Diversity Is Reality; Inclusion Is a Choice

Fostering purposeful inclusivity in training and development.

How can those responsible for talent, training, and development evaluate the impact of hidden biases and systemic processes that inhibit an inclusive work environment? Do leaders and trainers harbor unconscious biases that can affect their performance and the performance of their participants?

You can easily test your hidden biases by taking the Harvard Implicit Bias Test: https://implicit.harvard.edu. More than 17 million individuals have taken this test to gauge their hidden biases on a variety of diversity dimensions, including appearance, race, gender, age, and disability. Bias is any thought or action, intended or unintended, that provides someone an unfair advantage or disadvantage and can be positive or negative. There are several areas where biases affect the degree of inclusiveness in the training and development process.


Who gets to be trained? Here is where systemic processes may limit access to training based on who is “qualified” to register for a particular course such as Leadership Skills and who gets nominated by their managers. Affinity bias is when you prefer or ignore people based on the degree to which they share your characteristics. A manager may have the same hobby, went to the same university, belong to the same church, etc., as the person selected for a developmental program. The manager is simply selecting someone based on his or her personal knowledge and experience with that employee. The problem is that there are many more people being excluded from consideration due to lack of personal experience with a broader cohort of potential candidates.

To reduce biases in the selection of individuals for high-potential training programs, we have managers list the Top 7 candidates and then identify which ones they have the most and least in common with. We then coach the managers on how these commonalities may affect their judgement.

Other recommendations to enhance inclusivity are to create mentoring programs that promote diversity, and to involve leaders in sponsoring Employee Resource Groups. These have been used to enhance the opportunities of those who otherwise were in the “blind spot” of those selecting candidates for developmental programs. Another recommendation is to provide unconscious bias training focusing specifically on the selection process (why are taller and thinner people more likely to be selected for promotions?), so those making these critical appointments have the skills to make decisions that will promote inclusion.


You walk into a training room; are you attracted to those you already know? That would be a normal response. To overcome this bias, consciously greet each person with the same enthusiasm and interest.

Be mindful that we usually like to have participants who participate, who volunteer, and who ask thoughtful questions. We are drawn to these participants, and we have a habit of looking in their direction when asking a question and ignoring those who do not appear to be participating. We may unconsciously resent these students who do not “participate” because we assume they are not interested in what we are teaching or are evaluating us negatively. Often, the degree of participation is due to the culture of the education system in which the participant was raised. In most of Asia, learning is by rote memory and students are expected to obediently listen and take notes on the subject matter, which will be on the exam. The ideas of raising questions, volunteering ideas, etc., is preposterous and would be considered disrespectful and insubordinate. As instructors, we need to understand how cultural backgrounds affect the student/instructor relationship.

Micro-inequities are barely noticeable expressions of bias against someone based on numerous factors such as race, gender, and accents that are in the subconscious, so we are not even aware of the bias or its expression. Little acts of disrespect such as failing to respond to a student, mistakenly mispronouncing the person’s name, or not inviting some participants to join you for lunch are examples of micro-inequities. Other factors can be tone of voice, body language, and looking down when someone is speaking.


In addition to the content we teach, we must be mindful that our attendees are coming into our programs with their own biases. As instructors, we need to be vigilant about eliminating unconscious bias in our learning environments. We need to be sure that tasks such as taking notes, writing ideas on flip charts, or leading discussions are being assigned fairly, that some learners are not having their ideas cut off by other learners. Observe if learners open their laptops to check e-mail when those least like them are speaking. Take actions that will include all to participate.

Organizations that are more inclusive are more profitable, have much higher engagement scores, and have greater retention rates. How can we in Talent Management and Learning and Development take specific actions to create a more inclusive organization and learning process? Please submit any best practices, critical incidents, and case studies to me at ngoodman@global-dynamics.com for potential inclusion in future columns.

Neal Goodman, Ph.D., is president of Global Dynamics, Inc., a training and development firm specializing in globalization, cultural intelligence, effective virtual workplaces, and diversity and inclusion. He can be reached at 305.682.7883 and at ngoodman@globaldynamics.com. For more information, visit http://www.global-dynamics.com.

Neal Goodman, Ph.D., is president of Global Dynamics, Inc., a training and development firm specializing in globalization, cultural intelligence, effective virtual workplaces, and diversity and inclusion. He can be reached at 305.710.3060 and at ngoodman@global-dynamics.com. For more information, visit: http://www.global-dynamics.com.