Reason #5 Why Your Diversity Initiative Is Doomed: You’ve Hired an Inadequate External Training Partner

“5 Reasons Your Diversity Initiative Is Doomed (That No One Else Will Tell You)” by Susana Rinderle.

Training is a frequent, and often necessary, component of any successful diversity and inclusiveness (D&I) initiative, and hiring an external firm to deliver such training is often a wise business decision. However, it can easily be a waste of money and the precious time participants spend away from their offices if the training partner you select is inadequate or a poor fit. I’ve seen trainings (conducted by others) backfire by providing little to no practical value or, worse, creating or exacerbating unproductive tension or problems. Organizations with such an experience often conclude that diversity training doesn’t work, which has a chilling effect on future D&I efforts.

Often the issue isn’t that diversity training doesn’t work, but that the organization selected an inadequate training partner, or one that wasn’t a good fit. Not all diversity training (nor diversity trainers) is alike, especially now that D&I is more common and sought-after than ever before. Ensure you’re set up for success before investing in D&I training by answering the following questions:

  • Do we need training? Do we need it now? Training is the solution only if lack of knowledge or skills is the primary problem. Choose a training partner with additional expertise in OD (organizational development) who will work with you to determine what your specific training needs are and whether or not this is the right time to embark on a training rollout. Be wary of a training partner who is quick to sign on without first doing adequate assessment and delivering expert recommendations. 
  • Who do we already have internally with expertise in training, OD, adult learning, instructional design, and facilitation? Ensure those key stakeholders are intimately involved in any D&I training planning and implementation. Not only will they ask questions, make suggestions, and catch possible problems early that staff without this expertise will miss, they will share the burden of reinforcing and sustaining new knowledge and skills after training. It’s efficient and vital to your long-term success to ensure these critical internal partners are meaningfully involved from the very beginning. 

Ask your potential training firm (and individuals who will deliver training):

  • What is your expertise in adult learning, instructional design, and facilitation? I’ve witnessed organizations hire a Big Name to do their training because they’re enamored of the Big Name’s charisma and prominent media exposure. While these traits may be perfect for creating organizational buzz, demonstrating commitment, and delivering a dynamic kickoff keynote presentation, they fall short in creating meaningful learning and culture change when training and OD expertise isn’t also present. There is an entire field—called andragogy—dedicated to the art and science of adult learning. Ensure your training partner has demonstrated competence in this area. 
  • How is this training design effective for different learning styles, personality or MBTI types, generational cultures, and people with physical limitations and limited English proficiency? Partners with andragological expertise will be able to answer these questions and ensure maximum learning for the needs of your specific leadership team and employee population. 
  • How does this training program increase awareness, knowledge, and skills? In what proportion? Effective trainings address all three areas, and the proportion should be a good fit for your training goals, strategic D&I goals, and the stage of your D&I journey. Workshops should culminate in skills practice, and actionable next steps with a reasonable plan for execution. 
  • What is your expertise in D&I? What have been your measurable successes? Not everyone doing diversity training has expertise in diversity and inclusion! They may have limited experience, or only possess a background in the intercultural field, for instance, which is inadequate for doing D&I work in U.S. organizations. Some doing D&I work are former diversity leaders in organizations, who may or may not have been successful in those roles. Use behavioral interviewing questions to determine what results potential training partners have created—for other clients and other organizations in their former internal roles—not what they might create. 
  • What is your experience in managing or leading? You may want the people training your leaders and employees to have actual experience being managers or directors. If they don’t have this experience, or haven’t been an employee inside an organization in many years (or ever), they may not be as credible, insightful, practical, or empathetic as you need. 
  • What is your experience with our organization, sector, or industry? Partners without this experience may bring a fresh perspective, while those with such experience may have the same blind spots you do. Training partners with experience in a diversity of sectors and industries can be highly flexible and insightful. Find a training partner who’s a fit for your organizational culture, and perhaps also a stretch in alignment with your D&I goals. Notice how quickly and diligently your partner adapts to your organizational (and geographical!) culture and vocabulary. Notice what questions they ask (and don’t ask). Notice whether or not they’ve done their homework about your organization or industry and whether or not they have any negative feelings about either. If they do, this will affect their credibility and effectiveness with your employees. 
  • How do you handle tension, disagreement, or conflict during workshops? If a D&I initiative actually moves real change, it won’t be without productive conflict and tension, including during training sessions. Ask behavioral interviewing questions to determine how trainers have handled such situations in the past. Experienced, effective trainers will have plenty of stories to tell, and should be skilled at creating and maintaining a safe, trusting learning environment and facilitating difficult but meaningful conversations on the fly. 

Demonstrate the critical importance of D&I to obtaining results that matter by giving a commitment to D&I training the same scrutiny and insistence on fit, quality, and value that you would give to any other key strategic priority. This way, you set yourself up for increased buy-in, a higher ROI (return on investment), and better results you—and everyone in your organization—care about!

Excerpt from “5 Reasons Your Diversity Initiative Is Doomed (That No One Else Will Tell You)” by Susana Rinderle.

Susana Rinderle, MA, ACC, is a trainer, coach, facilitator, author, TEDx speaker and President of Susana Rinderle Consulting, LLC. Based in Los Angeles with 25 years of experience, she helps leaders and organizations solve a pressing problem or go from good to great through the power of inclusive leadership and effective communication. Visit for more information. #NewSchoolDandI 


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