In recent years, diversity and inclusion training has increasingly become the buzz phrase of the moment. In fact, in some countries, diversity and inclusion training is now a legal requirement.
However, improving diversity can often require more than just training.
The UK Government has ditched its training, claiming that it doesn’t work.
According to the 2019 L&D Report compiled by findcourses.com, diversity training can provide a huge boost to business, by driving staff morale, reducing turnover rates and charging growth (given that companies with greater diversity are 72% more likely to see higher growth than those who do not).
But what about its effect on actually reducing bias - the root cause of most organisation’s diversity woes?
And if training alone isn’t the answer, what should you do instead?
What Makes Great Diversity Initiative?
When it comes to removing bias from the workplace and improving diversity, initiatives that work generally attempt to change processes, rather than people.
Unconscious bias is part of human nature.
Whilst training alone does raise awareness, it has little effect on real-life behaviour.
A study of 829 companies over 31 years showed that training had no positive effects in the average workplace when it comes to changing people’s behaviour.
You can catch up on all of the research around unconscious bias training here.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t invest in any sort of training.
Your team members can still benefit from things like interpersonal skills training.
Building an inclusive workplace may require some team members to pick up new skills or better understand key concepts/ data points.
Problems with training tend to arise when we talk about de-biasing people. You can teach people new skills, but you can’t train their bias out of them.
A few D&I strategies that do work
Getting your team immersed in diversity
Immersing your team in diversity is easier than it sounds. A great starting point to doing this is looking at your team. Chances are, it is already more diverse than you realise.
You could ask a member of your team to lead a session as part of your diversity initiative or even get them to help plan your initiative.
Inclusive work cultures are ones that value and celebrate differences. So, if you have a team member with an additional language, you could ask them to lead a 101 session in that language. If you have a team member from another country, you could ask them to lead a cooking class, where they teach their colleagues how to make their national dish.
Using a blind hiring process
Even the most well-intentioned hirers are open to unconscious bias, it’s part of being human.
Whilst it’s hard to avoid, it results in candidates from minority backgrounds being disproportionately overlooked.
When you focus on candidates’ skills alone, and anonymous the process, diversity tends to improve dramatically.
The most efficient way to de-bias your hiring is through a ‘blind’ process.
This involves replacing CVs (which have been proven to invite bias into the hiring process) with work samples - the most predictive means of assessment there is.
Tracking diversity metrics
To make real change, you’ll need to track and report on your diversity efforts.
There are two key areas that you should focus your initial efforts in:
- How candidates progress through your hiring process (which stages see the most drop-offs).
- How candidates progress through your company (promotions, pay gaps, redundancies etc).
Diversity data only needs to be collected at an aggregate level - and never to identify individuals.
You’re essentially looking for any points in your hiring process or progression framework that cause candidates from a given group to drop off.
You might find that your job descriptions aren’t very good at attracting female candidates, or that minority background employees tend to be passed over for promotions.
Until you start tracking diversity, it’ll be nearly impossible to pinpoint where issues are arising… and so improving diversity and inclusion in any meaningful way will be impossible too.
The benefits of great diversity initiatives
The main benefits of diversity can be found both in its effects on morale and your organisation’s finances.
Companies with high levels of diversity amongst their employees are far more likely to see higher business growth. This is not surprising.
People from all backgrounds and all walks of life have lived experiences that they can bring to the table. This can help bring insights and perspectives into your organisation that it might otherwise not have had. This, in turn, can help you to target a wider, more diverse section of the market.
Diversity is good for business. Diversity training could help raise awareness and stimulate conversation - but should never be used as a catch-all solution to diversity issues.
Diversity can help to boost morale, engagement, overall satisfaction and even business growth.
Whilst training can be useful in bringing diversity to the forefront of people’s minds if you want to make real, measurable change, you should always look to improve your processes (such as hiring and progression) alongside this training since this is what drives behaviour change.
Luke Sandford is a writer and content producer at Educations Media Group. Currently based in Lund, he is originally from the UK and graduated from Goldsmiths College, University of London in 2018 with a BA in Education.