Proving The Critics Wrong On The Impact Of Diversity Training

Highlighting the results of an in-person program on unconscious bias taken by a CEO and his executive cabinet of 12 men who work at a billion-dollar industrial manufacturing company.

Can diversity and unconscious bias training have an impact on an organization’s policies, procedures, and practices, and result in changes in participants’ awareness, perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors? Based on more than 25 years of practice in the field and the demonstrated results below, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”

Those who question the value of diversity training often quote the Harvard Business Review article, “Why Diversity Programs Fail” by Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev (https://hbr.org/2016/07/why-diversity-programsfail). The article accurately describes the negative consequences of poorly planned and administered mandatory diversity programs. It also highlights the benefits of well-run programs and concludes: “The very good news is that we know what does work—we just need to do more of it.”

Unfortunately, the title of the article, which is quoted often, implies otherwise.

To counter attacks on the beneficial impacts of diversity training, this article highlights the results of an in-person program on unconscious bias taken by a CEO and his executive cabinet of 12 men who work at a billion-dollar industrial manufacturing company. These executives were reluctant to take the time for this workshop, and some saw it as “irrelevant,” which makes the results below and their transformation even more significant.

These executives have the authority to implement the “20 Commitments” they created individually and collectively across the organization. Here are those commitments, followed by the individual actions six of the executives committed to enact personally and across the organization.

THE 20 COMMITMENTS

  1. Be more consistent when asking for information during an informal meeting—ask everyone for their input to allow everyone an opportunity to share information.
  2. Communicate and have empathy.
  3. Let each person on the team present their work.
  4. Incorporate a “show and tell”/sharing of information—even on the personal level— to foster trust and commitment.
  5. Challenge people to drive diversity when considering candidates for succession planning purposes and to build/foster those relationships.
  6. Reach beyond staff for committee work.
  7. Capture information that is “going up” the communication/leadership chain in addition to disseminating information coming down from the top.
  8. Change system bias—listen to new ideas and step back from thinking, “Just do it—that is the way we’ve always done it and the way that works for us.”
  9. Encourage department members to generate and bring one new idea to team meetings.
  10. Look beyond the usual people for assignments.
  11. Identify “devil’s advocates” to review ideas.
  12. Identify patterns of biases in others’ behaviors.
  13. Set an agenda for inclusion.
  14. Speak up when people interrupt and don’t interrupt others.
  15. Become aware of biases, especially when viewing resumes.
  16. Share articles regarding core values, micro-inequities, bias, etc.
  17. Be aware of micro-inequities and negative micro-messaging.
  18. Challenge first thoughts.
  19. Sustain and support the women’s initiative.
  20. Be mindful of feeling stressed and hurried.

SAMPLE OF INDIVIDUAL EXECUTIVE COMMITMENTS AND ACTION PLANS:

EXECUTIVE #1:

  1. Look for opportunities to create a diverse candidate pool.
  2. Challenge what kinds of opportunities exist for females to rise to the director level.
  3. Women occupy HR, but there aren’t a tremendous number in the field—we need to change that.
  4. Remove names from resumes.
  5. Include a women’s committee for campus recruiting or career fairs.
  6. Recruit from diverse tech colleges.
  7. Send messages to internal recruiters to recruit more diverse candidates.

EXECUTIVE #2:

  1. Rotate people into leadership roles.
  2. Identify service areas that lack diversity and develop a plan.
  3. Acknowledge comments that foster diversity.
  4. Look at teams: Rank their level of diversity; call it out and develop within those who have low diversity. Watch out for “group think.” Participate in hiring and reviews.

EXECUTIVE #3:

  1. Ensure we have an inclusive process, from recruiting for those plum jobs to obtaining perspectives at exit interviews.
  2. Model the behavior.
  3. Review job announcements and specifications, and redo them to see if they are biased.
  4. Make sure there are stretch assignments.
  5. Partner with the Society of Latino Engineers and other similar groups.

EXECUTIVE #4:

  1. Attend HR meetings—lots of Millennials are present.
  2. Bring the group together—listen to what they have to say. They love to be involved in special assignments.
  3. At the four senior HR meetings per year, pair executives up and see what they have achieved over the last 90 days.
  4. Identify jobs that can be two-year assignments and initiate those rotations, if possible.
  5. Share the dialog regarding Millennials with the leadership team.

EXECUTIVE #5:

  1. Get more involved in the hiring process.
  2. “CYA” (facilitators’ term for “check your assumptions”); make sure I have the right assumptions.
  3. Create processes for diversity and succession planning—make sure we ask, “What are your career aspirations?” Mentor those you want to keep. Make this a fundamental process.
  4. Be consciously competent. We run hard and fast. Let’s pause to see the not so obvious: Sit in the customer or internal employee’s seat.
  5. Determine and identify why we are not the “employer of choice.” Interview peer groups, and get information from existing employees.

CEO:

  1. Make sure my son sees his mom as a valuable working person.
  2. Move toward more of a sponsorship than a mentorship for women eligible for promotion.
  3. Consciously interact with more people not in my image or likeness.
  4. Use the weekly checklist at the end of the week—asking myself, “Am I staying consciously inclusive?”
  5. Expand the internal understanding of unconscious bias across the broader constituency.
  6. Figure out how we can we more consistently keep unconscious bias at the forefront of our thoughts. Determine how we can challenge our processes—to help us get over the thoughts of where we are, and focus on the future (where we can be)—creating that vision of inclusivity.

The executive cabinet agreed to meet two months after the program to further refine their goals and form teams to tackle specific areas of interest they have in common with other members of the cabinet. Time will tell how much change takes place. It would be naïve to expect every action to be implemented, but it is clear from these results the cabinet now is committed to lead the mission to move their organization toward conscious inclusion.

Their increased sensitivity to this topic also will lead to changes in their interpersonal relations at work, their communities, and at home. The benefits of diversity training depend much on the culture and commitment of the organization, the dedication of the CEO, and the degree to which leaders are convinced the future success or failure of the organization is based on their need to change.

If you have any questions about the training process or experiences you would like to share, either positive or negative, regarding your diversity initiatives for possible inclusion in future columns, send them to: ngoodman@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 305.682.7883 and at ngoodman@globaldynamics.com. For more information, visit http://www.globaldynamics.com.

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